Healthcare and Essential Workers Say Comprehensive Pandemic PPE Legislation Will Save Lives and Prepare for Future Crises

Healthcare and Essential Workers Say Comprehensive Pandemic PPE Legislation Will Save Lives and Prepare for Future Crises

SEIU California
June 18, 2020

Contact: Mike Roth, 916.813.1554
Maria Elena Jauregui, 818.355.5291 (Spanish-language)

Sacramento, CA — As California sees continued growth in coronavirus cases and the timeline for effective treatments or vaccines stretches into an uncertain future, healthcare and essential workers joined Senator Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) and Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) to introduce legislation to avoid future catastrophic shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare and essential workers.   

 “The first three months of the pandemic, California’s healthcare workers faced what we’d most feared: that we would become the face of the COVID-19 pandemic because so many of us would get sick for lack of personal protective equipment,” said Lisa Ott, Respiratory Therapist at HCA Riverside Community Hospital and a member of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers. “It is essential that we learn the hard lessons of the coronavirus pandemic, and we fully support Sens. Pan and Leyva who are committed to making sure California is more prepared for the next public health crisis.” 

 “My hospital was completely underprepared for the crisis we faced, and California has to do better so we never again put nurses in the position to choose between serving the community and staying alive,” said Kathy Montanino, Registered Nurse, ICU, Riverside Community Hospital and a member of SEIU Local 121RN.

Properly equipping frontline workers is also essential to addressing the uneven toll of the pandemic on communities of color, who are disproportionately represented among workers in the hospital, nursing home, and janitorial fields. 

“Patients, families, and communities across the state, but especially in poor Black and brown communities, were exposed to the virus because workers weren’t protected,” said Joyce George, Healthcare Justice Leader, a patient and an advocate for patients. “A lot of sickness, suffering, and even death have come from not taking care of healthcare and other essential workers.”

Over the last several weeks, the SEIU family has lost numerous valued members:  Rosa Luna, a hospital Environmental Service Worker worker and Sally Lara, a lab assistant, both members of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West who worked at Riverside Community Hospital, and Celia Marcos, RN and member of SEIU 121 RN, who died from COVID-19 after treating a sick patient without the PPE that could have saved her life. Rosa, Sally, and Celia were a few of the almost 600 health care workers who have died in the line of duty. In addition, the Sacramento Bee reported this week that 55 nursing home health care workers have died as of June 4.

 SB 275 would prepare California to save lives in the next pandemic and help increase safety as California continues to grapple with this COVID-19 pandemic into the foreseeable future. SB 275 will:

  • Require healthcare employers to have a three-month pandemic level supply for all healthcare workers – including lower-wage workers like janitors, housekeeping, certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and others that are typically black and brown workers.
  • Require the state to create a stockpile for use during an emergency, which will help protect all essential workers
  • Require that 25% of the PPE be produced within California to ensure that we won’t have to scramble for PPE or find ourselves completely at the mercy of unscrupulous suppliers.
  • Prioritize low-income, medically underserved areas to ensure communities of color have access to PPE if there is not enough to meet the need.

 “The COVID-19 crisis exposed a failure to adequately plan and prepare for a pandemic. Inadequate supplies of unexpired personal protective equipment (PPE) including respirators, surgical masks, and gowns left essential workers vulnerable to infection and death in hospitals and nursing homes,” said Dr. Richard Pan, pediatrician and State Senator representing the Sacramento region. “SB 275 prepares us for the next pandemic and makes certain that the heroes that provide care for our sick, seniors and children will have the life-saving equipment they require so they can care for us and our loved ones.”

“It is essential that California be better prepared to protect all workers ahead of the next pandemic or crisis,” said Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino). “We have seen all too clearly that we cannot simply rely on the federal government or existing supply chains to meet the needs of California’s frontline and extended workforce. SB 275 will help to ensure our critical PPE stockpile so that California workers have the protective gear they need to protect both themselves and those around them.”

“Millions of sanitation workers, delivery workers, transportation workers, social workers, and other Californians continued to do our jobs to keep our communities functioning and safe during this pandemic, but many of us have done our job without the adequate protection we needed,” said Simboa Wright, a sanitation worker from Los Angeles and a member of SEIU Local 721. “That’s why working people have been hit so hard by this crisis. We need to know that next time around, California will do a better job of protecting us.”

 More than three months after COVID-19 was declared a worldwide pandemic, California’s PPE shortage is anything but solved. Frontline SEIU workers in hospitals, nursing homes, home care, other healthcare settings, and in other essential jobs, such as public services, still report life-threatening shortages of PPE. Of over 7,000 workers who responded to a recent survey that took place over six weeks:

  • 88.8% reported experiencing a shortage of PPE
  • 91.9% reported that their PPE shortage issues were not resolved
  • 77.8% had to use homemade or improvised PPE
  • 47.8% experienced a situation where they were forced to work without PPE
  • 78.0% had to reuse single-use PPE


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