(TMU) — When disaster strikes it’s the workers who form the frontline forces that protect us all, and this is true now more than ever amid the coronavirus pandemic as nursing staff, respiratory care practitioners, and healthcare workers prove their worth through unimaginable feats of heroism and self-sacrifice.
On Thursday, the union representing nearly 100,000 members working in California hospitals—the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW)—announced that it had located 39 million N95 masks that it will make immediately available to local governments, health care systems, and resource-starved hospitals in New York and California that are struggling to cope with the wave of patients infected by CoViD-19.
In a statement, the SEIU-UHW explained:
“The union launched an exhaustive search for masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) five days ago in response to pleas from frontline healthcare workers that they need more protection and feel unsafe on the job as they treat the growing number of COVID-19 patients.”
After 48 hours of exhaustively searching for the supplies, the union managed to find a distributor who had 39 million masks. The union had no idea why the supplier, which has warehouses in Pennsylvania and Georgia, was sitting on such a massive amount of masks.
However, union spokesman Steve Trossman told BuzzFeed News:
“There was nothing magical about it. We just rolled up our sleeves and tried anybody who we thought might have a supply. It really was old fashioned elbow grease.”
The healthcare justice union, which has long engaged in battles to improve conditions for members and quality care for patients, also found a supplier that promised to produce 20 million more masks per week. Another supplier also pledged to supply millions of protective face shields.
The supplier has already sold many of the masks to the state of California, the Greater New York Hospital Association, Dignity Health, Stanford Health Care, Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health, and Los Angeles, Riverside and Santa Clara counties.
SEIU-UHW President Dave Regan said:
“SEIU-UHW members and healthcare workers all over California are desperate for more protection, so we are seeking out supplies wherever we can get them.
We are continuing to turn over every rock to see if we can find more personal protective equipment to make sure that healthcare workers, who are heroically putting their own health on the line to care for patients, can do their jobs as safely as possible.”
The union is now working with states, counties, and healthcare systems to connect them directly with suppliers to arrange the purchases. Masks will be distributed both to unionized and non-unionized facilities. Regan continued:
“We want the masks to be distributed as widely as possible. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough to go beyond California and New York, and so far hospitals in Arizona have not responded to an offer of 2 million masks, but as we locate more masks we want to expand the circulation as much as possible.”
However, SEIU-UHW leadership stressed that more needs to be done on a nationwide level—especially on the part of Washington, D.C. Regan explained:
“While we are pleased with these initial results, we recognize they are stopgap measures in light of the estimated 3.5 billion masks that could be needed during this pandemic. We urgently need the federal government to step in and drive a coordinated national response to the personal protective equipment shortage.”
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