1199 Magazine

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A Journal of 1199SEIU May-June 2020


George Floyd’s killing sparks global movement for justice.


May-June 2020



7 5 The President’s Column We are essential. 6 Not One More George Floyd Take action. Create change.

17 On the cover: June 4 memorial at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY. Members took a knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on George Floyd’s neck, suffocating him to death. @1199seiu www.1199seiu.org 2

May-June 2020

7 Around the Regions Census deadlines extended; Florida members fight for safe and adequate PPE; North Country member founds a COVID mutual aid network; salute to Montefiore caregivers; victory at St. Barnabas.

10 The Front Line’s Front Line EMTs in the COVID crisis. 12 #WeAreEssential Special pullout poster. 14 The Work We Do New YorkPresbyterian respiratory therapists. 17 When Home is the Front Lines Homecare workers and PCAs in the COVID crisis.

18 Walkout for Black Lives Tens of thousands join lunchtime vigil demanding justice and reform. 20 Putting Others First Recovered and vulnerable caregivers remained devoted to patients. 22 Hitting the Road to Say Thanks Caravans carry messages of gratitude and hope.

1199 Magazine May-June 2020 Vol. 38, No. 3 ISSN 2474-7009 Published by 1199SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East 310 West 43rd St. New York, NY 10036 (212) 582-1890 www.1199seiu.org

Editorial: We Can’t Breathe 1199ers are fighting for our own lives and the lives of our patients.


George Gresham

What seems like a million years ago, we were scrambling at the onset of a pandemic, fighting to save lives. Nurses, paramedics, homecare workers, CNAs, dietary workers, and so many more— every one of us was in a war, and we could barely hear our own exhausted thoughts. In New York City, the epicenter of the virus in America, life was a blur of wailing sirens, hissing and beeping machines, and the cacophony of caregivers rushing from one life to another in the fight to save as many as possible. Our institutions were besieged by an insatiable enemy preying on our sickest, oldest and most vulnerable. It was, all at once, frightening, maddening, painful and galvanizing. Hour after hour, 1199ers and their comrades on the front lines worked frantically. They put their own fears aside and risked their own lives to preserve the lives of strangers. Many—patients and caregivers alike—were felled by the virus. Too many of them were Black and Brown. The COVID-19 epidemic put a human face on disparity, forced society to re-consider the definition of essential, and highlighted the foundation of inequality upon which America is built. Then on a Monday in late May, it happened again. As the nation was busy fending off the greatest public health crisis most of us have seen in our lifetimes, we watched in horror as another Black man was killed by a police officer. As we were fighting to restore breath to the sick and suffering, a policeman in Minneapolis was kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, depriving him of his breath. The scene was a horrifying echo of a past that is not even past. Hundreds of thousands of us took to the streets, wearing our masks and gloves, and carrying signs along with an understanding that America’s

secretary treasurer

Maria Castaneda executive vice presidents

Jacqueline Alleyne Yvonne Armstrong Lisa Brown Tim Foley Patrick Forde Ruth Heller Antonio Howell Maria Kercado Steve Kramer Joyce Neil Monica Russo Rona Shapiro Milly Silva Gregory Speller Veronica Turner-Biggs Nadine Williamson editor

Patricia Kenney director of photography

Jim Tynan

art direction & design Maiarelli Studio cover photo

Carolina Kroon contributors

Mindy Berman Aaron Blye Regina Heimbruch JJ Johnson Erin Rojas Jacob Webb Kim Wessels

Albert Tercero

The very people who are literally saving the life of this country will fight, until our very last breath, for the dignity to which we all as human beings are entitled.

particularly cruel strains of racism and injustice have ultimately claimed more lives than the coronavirus ever will. So now, as our mission has been since our founding, we in this union are fighting sickness in the streets and at the bedside. 1199’s heroes will not allow death, fear, or injustice to prevail in this nation. The very people who are literally saving the life of this country will fight, until our very last breath, for the dignity to which we all as human beings are entitled.

1199 Magazine is published six times a year—January/ February, March/ April, May/June, July/ August, September/ October, November/ December—for $15.00 per year by 1199SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East, 310 W. 43 St, New York, NY 10036. Periodicals postage paid at New York, NY, and at additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to 1199 Magazine, 310 W. 43 St., New York, NY 10036.

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Letters & Social Media HEALTHCARE HEROES CAN’T FORGET OUR POWER or the past few months, we’ve been at war with an invisible enemy. Health workers have been on the front line saving lives (while risking ours). For years, we have maintained that healthcare workers deserve the best health care. And lately, a lot of people have called us heroes. And come contract time, we can’t let those in power forget what is happening now. This is a period of extreme emergency, and management is exercising their rights within the contract to deal with such emergencies. We have to remember to do the same. We also have to remember that our union is a political powerhouse. The last few months we have proven how damaging the Trump presidency really is for our nation. He would like to destroy us and every union across the nation. He is the president of the rich and powerful and views all of us as the sacrificial lambs in the fight against COVID-19. We must continue to fight to elect people that will fight for ALL OF US, or we will be lost.


Maurice F. DePalo, Montefiore Westchester Square, NYC

REFLECTIONS ON THE WORLD TODAY From origins of betrayal and greed, The suppression of noble bravery and endurance, Their names were changed. They were enslaved dreaming to be free. Beaten scarred, children killed, raped and sold never to be seen again. Until today bullies kill. Justice is not equal, peace dismantled, destruction, evil desecration of holy places. Environmental sins destroy the world. The spiritual legacy of Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King and all whose blood has stained our soil. Where is fairness kindness health, humanity? Love your neighbor as yourself. Who is your neighbor? Everyone is your neighbor! Let anguish and despair bring meaningful change. Cast your vote! Elaine Manning NY-Presbyterian Medical Center, NYC


May-June 2020

1199SEIU: 1199ers have been demanding PPE for months, and have still not received what they need to stay safe as they battle COVID-19. Police officers are able to show up for protests in full protective gear. What does this say about how our healthcare system is funded?

@1199mass: It’s #PPE

Thursday! 1199ers are still calling for adequate protection for ALL healthcare workers. We are making donations to hard hit nursing homes, distributing masks at pop-up sites across #MA, & calling to fund the frontlines - we are in this together!

@1199seiu_nj: Pop quiz!

What is this a picture of? 1. A nursing home worker with proper PPE. 2. A nursing home worker wearing garbage bags because she wasn’t given a medical gown to protect herself from a lethal virus. #PPE #WheresMyPPE #PPENow #WeAreEssential #ProtectAllWorkers

@1199SEIUFLORIDA: We just wrapped up deliveries of 20,000 KN95 masks to long-term care facilities across Central and South Florida. Thanks again @greatergoodorg for this donation which will help protect residents and nursing home workers against the #coronavirus. #WeCareForFL

@1199SEIU_MDDC: Mother & daughter RNs Ionis Bandele & Mirandy Forde are on the frontlines of the #COVID19 crisis at PG Hospital, in the hardest-hit county in MD. They need PPE, crisis pay, & testing! #WeAreEssential #1199onthefrontlines #getmeppenola

1199SEIU WESTCHESTER, HVCAP: #1199MemberPower! SHOUT OUT TIME! To 1199ers at Greater Hudson Valley Health Services (GHVHS), which includes Orange Regional Medical Center (ORMC), Catskill Regional Medical Center (CRMC), and a number of other medical practices and offsites in the area. For almost two months they told their employer about the challenges they are facing and the sacrifices they are making during the COVID-19 crisis. They took action and told the administrators again and again—until finally they were acknowledged with gratitude and provided with hazard pay. #WeAreEssential #1199onthefrontline https://1199onthefrontlines.org/

1199SEIU New Jersey: Only 4% of nursing homes polled by the New Jersey Department of Health said that they have an urgent need for more medical gowns. Perhaps the other 96% of nursing home operators think it’s appropriate for workers to be dressed in short-sleeved rain ponchos?‍ #GetMePPE #WeAreEssential. If you aren’t being provided essential PPE that you need, alert your union delegate or organizer and call the state emergency complaint hotline right away: 1-800-792-9770

We Are Essential Today, we save lives. Tomorrow, we build a better future. The President’s Column by George Gresham

Dear 1199SEIU Sisters and Brothers, I am so proud of you and have so much admiration for your hard work, your commitment to our patients, and your courage in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. I hope you are just as proud of yourselves. Especially living in New York City as I do, these past months have been pretty eerie in the epicenter of the virus. There were weeks when nobody was in the streets and nothing was moving in the busiest city in North America. The main sounds in this noisiest of places were the sounds of sirens as emergency personnel tried to save more victims. And then the #ClapBecauseWeCare movement took hold. Every night at 7 p.m., folks stick their heads out of apartment windows and climb out on their fire escapes to clap, bang pots and cheer for their heroes—you and the other healthcare workers, first responders and essential workers. Across the country, people are doing the same because America’s people want to salute their champions. Just as firefighters risk everything running into a burning building to rescue people, our members put their health and their lives on the line every day in trying to save the health and lives of their patients. Yet, because of the Trump administration’s denial of the coronavirus as it spread, and its failure to plan and prepare for the pandemic, our hospitals and nursing homes had insufficient quantities of protective gear for our frontline caregivers and too few ventilators and essential life-saving equipment. These failures resulted in the loss of an estimated 30,000 lives in New York State alone. Nevertheless, our paramedics, nurses, nurse assistants, respiratory therapists, transporters, housekeeping workers and others showed up every day and often worked longer hours and extra days to deliver care

to our patients. Entire hospitals were turned into emergency and intensive care units. Nursing homes became hot spots, accounting for more than one third of all COVID deaths. (That shocking figure includes many nursing home workers.) Tens of thousands of 1199 home health workers remained with their patients, many of whom are frail and elderly, among the most vulnerable of all to the virus. Across the healthcare spectrum, 1199 members, often inadequately protected, showed up to care for and comfort their patients, even as family members were barred from visiting During these last few months, a new phrase, “essential workers” has become popular when speaking about healthcare workers and those who pick our crops, slaughter our meat, stock our grocery shelves, collect our garbage, run our bus and train systems, and deliver our mail. Essential workers keep our society safe and our basic needs met, while most of the population shelters in place at home. It is WE essential workers—not the CEOs and the billionaires—who make our country function. WE are the ones holding society together. And so we need to keep reminding folks, and reminding ourselves, how essential we are, so that now and in the future we are treated with the respect—and the compensation and rights—that are our due. With well over 100,000 dead from COVID-19, with some 40 million newly without jobs, with so much uncertainty facing our public health, the economy and the political life of our country, everybody understands that the United States that eventually emerges from the pandemic will be a different country than we were before the coronavirus. There will be new opportunities to reshape our society—but only if we fight for them. With the now

“ We need to keep reminding folks, and reminding ourselves, how essential we are, so that now and in the future, we are treated with the respect—and the compensation and rights—that are our due.”

widespread recognition that we caregivers are essential, we should demand federal mandates for a living wage, sick leave, hazard pay, family leave—and health care as a right. Some 30 percent of healthcare workers responding to this national emergency are immigrants. There should be a fasttrack pathway to citizenship for all who want it. We 1199 caregivers are fortunate to have our union and, with it, our benefits and protections and a voice on the job. But only one in ten healthcare workers in our country has a union. Non-union caregivers also deserve the right to a union and collective bargaining. These rights are the least we have earned as essential frontline workers. What we do as we approach the November elections will go far in determining how our country views us essential workers and caregivers. In the meantime, dear sisters and brothers, please know that we 1199SEIU officers and staff recognize just how precious you are. You inspire us and make us honored to work for you. Thank you so much.

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Dear Sisters and Brothers, This is a surreal moment. I know I don’t have to tell you as caregivers about the ways COVID-19 has inflicted tragedy on our lives. This virus is an invisible enemy, inflicting visible pain on so many, but we are continuing to fight to save the lives that have been entrusted to us for care. In addition to all of our work to fight COVID-19, we are also grappling with the reminder that race continues to influence the ways justice is delivered in our nation. I was blessed to turn 65 this year. Many of you know I spent my formative years in the South, and I am blessed to have so many good memories of that time. I also remember the racism and discrimination I endured at the hands of people who considered me—and still consider me—a second-class citizen. As a Black man, nothing hurts more than knowing that the same racism and discrimination my grandparents endured is still alive and well, and will likely be endured by my own grandchildren. I could easily be George Floyd. Right now, before our very eyes, we are witnessing the very public breakdown of a system designed to bring justice and hold our society together. We are also witnessing the reaction of people who have been marginalized for far too long. I am extremely grateful that I belong to an organization that fights for real freedom against oppression in every form. I am also grateful that this organization has the strength and resources needed to put a dent into what is hurting humanity in the United States right now. 1199SEIU remains on the front lines in our shops, and in the fight against racial injustice. Recently, the Executive Committee voted to donate to three organizations that are on the ground in Minnesota, fighting to bring justice where there seems to be none. Please take a moment to visit these organizations at their respective websites and learn about the great work they are doing:

Regina Heimbruch

Reclaim The Block – www.reclaimtheblock.org Minnesota Freedom Fund – www.minnesotafreedomfund.org Black Visions Collective – www.blackvisionscollective.org Let us continue to allow our unity and action as members of 1199SEIU to serve as an inspiration for all with whom we come in contact. Our workplaces, our respective states, and the nation as a whole are better because of the work we are doing to help fight for what we all deserve. In Unity, George Gresham President 6

May-June 2020

Florida Maryland Massachusetts New Jersey New York Washington, D.C.

Around the Regions FLORIDA

Florida Nurses Push Back on Unsafe Protocols As Florida’s COVID-19 crisis escalated, Registered Nurses represented by 1199SEIU at institutions operated by Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) rejected COVID-19 protocols handed down by their employer because they weakened protections and increased the vulnerability of caregivers at HCA facilities around the state. As healthcare workers struggled to keep themselves and their patients safe as the pandemic headed toward its May peak, the company announced that as of April 13 only staff performing the most severe “aerosol-generating procedures, such as intubation, nebulization, bronchoscopy or suctioning of COVID-positive and COVID-possible patients will be provided a protective N-95 respirator, while caregivers providing all other procedures on these patients may only utilize a less-protective mask and equipment.” And in response to HCA’s move, workers held protests demanding that healthcare giants step up and protect the workers on the front lines of care at its institutions. The move drew an especially sharp rebuke from caregivers after HCA’s initial protocols provided for the superior N-95 protection for all workers caring for patients confirmed with the COVID-19 coronavirus or those who were possible carriers. HCA is a multi-billion dollar for-

profit company and operates dozens of hospitals throughout Florida. The corporation also received a substantial portion of the $2 trillion governmental stimulus and 6.2% payroll tax relief, which is earmarked to benefit workers serving on the front lines of the crisis. University Hospital and Medical Center RN Pat Diaz called the move “a giant step backwards.” “Under these new protocols, we will have much more risk to contract the virus ourselves,” said Diaz, a long-time 1199 Florida activist. “We’ll be wearing inferior protection while providing care to patients who are sick and/or highly contagious with a deadly condition.” In addition to worker actions decrying the move, 1199SEIU has sent a cease-and-desist letter to HCA demanding the hospital chain reverse the “significant and medically questionable change” in procedures. The company’s April 16 report claimed that it has available a HCA had a 29-day supply of protective respirators currently in inventory, calling itself the “safest place to practice and receive care in South Florida.” Some nurses were prepared to refuse assignments if they were put in harm’s way unnecessarily and reported being threatened with disciplinary action. Despite HCA’s hardline stance, nurses stood fast, citing the well-being

of their patients, themselves, their own families and communities. At press time, Florida HCA members were continuing the demand that the corporation provide the highest levels of safety equipment to workers. They were also among the hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers across the country who flooded congressional phone lines and inboxes demanding immediate action from the federal government to protect healthcare workers and provide resources for improved testing and treatment for frontline workers; rapid expansion of the production of essential equipment and necessary personal protective equipment; and the implementation of price controls to stop profiteering.

Workers protested when HCA facilities in Florida weakened safety protocols as the COVID-19 epidemic headed toward it’s May peak. The company insisted it had a 29-day supply of protective respirators in current inventory and called itself the “safest place to practice and receive care in South Florida.”

1199SEIU also points out that healthcare institutions such as HCA have received a substantial portion of the $2 trillion governmental stimulus and 6.2% payroll tax relief, which must largely benefit workers serving on the front lines of the crisis. This support includes paid sick time for employees who are quarantined; hazard pay; keeping staff on payroll so skilled workers are available as the pandemic moved toward a May peak; and more.

FDNY, NYPD Salute Montefiore Workers The Bronx knows how to do it up! Workers at Montefiore Medical Center were joined for the Seven PM Clap on May 8 by a brigade of applauding FDNY and NYPD officers and a flyover by a commercial jetliner emblazoned with the FDNY and NYPD colors. Sirens roared from FDNY and NYPD vehicles. Feeding First Responders and Kids for Kids provided Montefiore workers with much-needed refreshments in appreciation for their work on behalf of the people of the Bronx. 1199 Magazine 7

Around the Regions

 Pharmacy tech John Gordan (at center, in rear of photo) is a community activist from the Plattsburgh, NY area.

“The way our economy is organized is not in the best interest of the people.” — John Gordan, Pharmacy Tech at Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital NEW YORK

North Country 1199er Founds Mutual Aid Network At the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak John Gordan, a pharmacy tech at Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital wanted to do something to help his community. As a tenant’s rights activist and candidate for local office, he knew that North Country New Yorkers would be hit hard by the pandemic physically, psychologically, and economically. So Gordan and a friend set up a mutual aid Facebook group, “North Country Neighbors Helping Neighbors.” They expected the page to be among many outlets for information and services for New York State’s North Country. They were surprised when the group attracted more than 8,000 members looking for information on everything from unemployment to food pantries. Gordan says he’s proud of the way North Country residents have stepped up to help each other. The area was struggling before COVID, with manufacturing losses and other serious blows to the economic base. “I’m very concerned about our future,” says Gordan. “We’ve seen lines of hundreds of cars waiting at food pantries around the country. The way our economy is organized is not in the best interest of the people.” Gordan hopes COVID will change the way society operates. “I’m hoping there will be more openness, and things will be more democratic.” 8

May-June 2020

Your 1199SEIU Credit Union Is Available 24 Hours A Day Through our mobile apps, online services, and ATMs, the 1199SEIU Federal Credit Union offers access to accounts and services from the convenience and security of home. Office hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Below are just some of the services we offer. For more information, call 212-957-1055 or go to www.1199federalcu.org. Online Banking • Free Transfers to Internal Accounts or External Institutions • Readily Accessible Statements • Instant Account Transfers Mobile App • Instant Account Access • Transaction History • Instant Transfer to Internal Accounts • ATM/Shared Branch Locator Shared Branch Network • Make deposits or withdrawals at thousands of credit unions around the U.S. • Access your money through our surcharge-free AllPoint ATMs

“ We Are Powerful Because We Have Survived.” — Audre Lorde In June, 1199SEIU Celebrates Pride Month 2020



St. Barnabas Workers Celebrate Reinstatement Dental Assistants from Union Community Health Center (UCHC) in the Bronx, which is affiliated with nearby St. Barnabas Hospital (SBH) rallied May 26 to celebrate their reinstatement and press St. Barnabas for crisis pay. The UCHC dental assistants were sent to St. Barnabas when their clinic closed in the surge of the COVID-19 crisis. Instead of being assigned work for which they were appropriately trained, they were given tasks far beyond their scope of work, including working with psychiatric patients and moving dead bodies. When they complained, St. Barnabas’ management sent them home. After three weeks of pressure from Union representatives and delegates, SBH reinstated the workers with full back pay. The rally also celebrated the reinstatement of four SBH Registered Nurses who were unfairly dismissed for using their COVID-19 leave time. Dental Assistant Daniel Recuero helped lead the effort to pressure St. Barnabas into doing the right thing. “No healthcare worker deserves to be treated this way,” said Recuero. “Every single one of us should be treated with the dignity and respect that all front-line healthcare workers deserve. We have done our best for St. Barnabas and UCHC. We expect them to do the right thing for us!”

“ We have done our best for St. Barnabas and UCHC. We expect them to do the right thing for us!”

The parade is the country‘s largest celebration of ethnic heritage.

 1199ers rallied at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx on May 26 to celebrate the reinstatement of RNs and dental assistants who were unfairly dismissed during the height of the COVID-19 crisis.

— Daniel Recuero, Dental Assistant

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in the Fires of the Pandemic Strain was unprecedented for the busiest system in nation.

Even before New York City became the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, its Emergency Medical Services (EMS) system was the busiest in the nation. But as the virus took hold on New York City, the system was quickly overwhelmed. What was an ember in early March raged into a wildfire just two weeks later. The number of emergency calls rose from about 4,000 a day to 7,000. The usual monthly toll of cardiac arrests was being reached in less than a week. The pandemic also took a severe toll on the city’s first responders. At one point in April, more than onequarter of the city’s EMT workers were out sick. Others stayed away from home out of fear of infecting family members. By the end of April, eight of the workers had passed away. “To keep my seven-year-old son safe, I left him behind with my mother,” said Amanda Dasaro, an EMT for the last eight years at NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan. “I stayed at an NYU dorm until the Union 10

May-June 2020

helped me find an Airbnb.” Dasaro said that words were inadequate to describe the intensity of her experience. “It was unbelievably mentally and physically challenging,” she said. “At times, I couldn’t catch my breath. I felt as if I was drowning in a sea of worry, and I had a constant knot in my stomach.” Also especially painful, Dasaro said, was the sight of patients’ family members who tearfully watched her take their loved ones away. “The helplessness I saw in the eyes of both patients and family members was heartbreaking,” she said. “As my partner and I carried patients away, I literally begged them to hold on.” Dasaro and other EMS workers said they long for the days when the usual sounds of the city replace the endless screeching of sirens, and when springtime heralds the blossoming of flowers and children frolicking in parks and playgrounds. Added to the stifling volume of work during the pandemic is a far

Amanda Dasaro, an EMT at NYU Langone Medical Center, slept in an NYU dorm to protect her family from COVID-19. She eventually moved into an Airbnb through an 1199SEIU partnership program.

“The helplessness I saw in the eyes of both patients and family members was heartbreaking.” — Amanda Dasaro, EMT, NYU Langone Medical Center, Manhattan.

more demanding protocol. The need to protect themselves and others from the virus necessitates a much greater level of caution and care for patients and themselves. “Unlike before, you can’t just pick up and drop off a patient,” said Jack Chapman, a paramedic at Staten Island University Hospital (SIUH). “Everything has to be sanitized before and after each call. All the protective personal equipment (PPE)—the masks, gloves, face shields—have to be taken off, cleaned and put on.” He said that he was also physically and mentally exhausted by the volume of calls. He noted that his toughest challenge was seeing patients of all ages who were previously healthy lying in the ICU, being intubated and sometimes sadly passing away. To make it through the day, he tried to reduce personal involvement with patients and not take his work home. “I’m fortunate that my fiancée, who has a master’s degree in nursing, is there

 Staten Island University Hospital paramedic Antonio Jimenez stayed away from his family for two weeks to keep them safe from the coronavirus.  “I’m fortunate that my fiancée, who has a master’s degree in nursing, is there for me if I need to discuss my work,” said Staten Island University Hospital Paramedic Jack Chapman.

in his work locker. “For me, the most difficult part of the workday is seeing families crazy with worry and concern for their loved ones,” Jimenez says. Although EMS workers have been given more latitude to determine whether patients should be hospitalized, the new protocol limits the amount of time workers can spend attempting to resuscitate a patient from about 35 or 40 minutes to 20. Jimenez and the others talked about “the fragility” of life and how death seems to lurk everywhere. “I have flashbacks,” Jimenez said. “This is going to take a long time to get over.”

for me if I need to discuss my work.” “My family didn’t sign up for this,” says another SIUH paramedic, Antonio Jimenez. Having a family—a wife and two children in Jimenez’s case—added another layer of anxiety for him. After he contracted the virus in March, Jimenez isolated himself at

home for close to two weeks in order to protect family members. After his return to work, he undressed after each shift at the door and headed straight to the shower, before greeting family members. He puts his clothing in a plastic bag before it’s washed or he sometimes leaves it

“This will take a long time to get over.” — Antonio Jimenez SIUH paramedic

EMS and other healthcare workers have questioned the timing of states that decided to relax public health restrictions and scale back stay-athome orders although the number of infected people in their states continued to increase. In the absence of mass testing and adequate contact tracing, infectious disease experts also believe that easing the lockdowns is premature. They add that even with changes in behavior, the reopenings could spark a resurgence of the pandemic. Dasaro, although she’s going through one of her life’s toughest tests, remains positive. “I do this work because I put everyone before me,” she said. “I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to escape infection, and I still have my family and my job. So many others have lost lives and livelihoods.” Chapman said his hope is that the pandemic will make us wiser and more prepared if a resurgence of COVID-19 or another crisis comes. “My fear is complacency,” he warned. “I’m also frustrated by those who don’t take this pandemic seriously. They should talk to people like those of us who work in health care.”

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THE WORK WE DO THE RESPIRATORY THERAPISTS AT NY-PRESBYTERIAN’S MORGAN STANLEY CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL As the COVID-19 crisis engulfed New York City, the relentless whine of sirens drowned out the lockdowninduced silence on the city’s streets. New Yorkers faced staggering death tolls and renewed pressure on longexisting disparities. In every setting, healthcare workers continued to show up and care for the sick and suffering. As the coronavirus cruelly robbed tens of thousands of their breath, respiratory therapists (RTs) played a central role in helping patients recover, easing suffering, and saving lives. 1199SEIU represents some 140 respiratory therapists at NY-Presbyterian Medical Center and its associated Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital (CHONY). CHONY RTs usually care for the city’s youngest patients, but as the pandemic bore down on NYC, they found themselves on the front line of one of New York’s biggest hospitals. And working near-miracles to restore life-giving breath to thousands of COVID-19 victims.


May-June 2020


2. RTs Reina Molina and Giovanni Apollon. Molina has worked at Presby’s Children’s Hospital for five years. “I found that coming into work made it easier to deal with what was happening. So many of us suffered personal losses, it was helpful having that camaraderie, and knowing that under the worst circumstances, we have each other.” Molina and a coworker helped make colorful masks for the whole department.


At a February Lobby Day in Annapolis, workers pressed officials for change around criminal justice issues and the need for corporations to pay their fair share for wages, healthcare, and education.


“ I am not someone who is going to do the bare minimum. If someone needs something, I’m going to do everything in my power to help them, or if I can’t, I will find the person who can.” — Steven Seraphan, Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital

3. Steven Seraphan has been an RT at CHONY for 11 years. “Once I started hearing about the cases in the early stages of the crisis, I knew it was going to be bad,” he says. “March was really bad. One day they put me in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit, and it kind of felt like an assembly line, I had so many patients.” 4

1. 1199 represents 140 Respiratory Therapists (RT) at NYPresbyterian Hospital. In the COVID crisis, some 40 RTs from the institution’s Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital were called to work at Presby’s main hospital.

4. Superheroes Arianne Bernardo (left) and Mhyne Ragot (right) show off their RT swag under their scrubs.

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THE WORK WE DO THE RESPIRATORY THERAPISTS AT NY-PRESBYTERIAN’S MORGAN STANLEY CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL 5. You could say Daniel Denmark has respiratory therapy in his blood. He followed his father’s footsteps into the profession after originally planning to become a doctor. Denmark says teamwork was critical to managing stress and getting through the worst part of the COVID-19 crisis in NYC. “Having that bond is very important. I appreciate everyone in my department because we are all hands on. When things are moving quickly, that’s what you want. I really appreciate my co-workers having my back because you can’t do any of this all by yourself.”

6. Respiratory Therapist Monique Guerrant models some PPE. “When everything started, it was so chaotic and overwhelming. I had 20 patients, and every one was COVID positive,” says Guerrant, who stayed in hospital housing to protect her family from infection. “I washed my hands so much they were breaking out. They’re finally getting better now. For a while I thought I was handling things OK, and then recently I was talking with a patient about what happened and I just started crying.” 5

“I really appreciate my co-workers having my back because you can’t do any of this all by yourself.” — Daniel Denmark, NY-Presbyterian Respiratory Therapist



May-June 2020


“ We Are the Front Line Right at Home” Homecare workers and PCAs fight for protections in COVID-19 crisis.

A lot of people may not recognize Suzette Roberts as a hero. She doesn’t wear scrubs or a stethoscope. There haven’t been vivid images of her and her co-workers struggling through hospital hallways. But she is a hero, nevertheless. There are more than 2 million home care workers in the United States. 1199SEIU represents the tens of thousands of home health aides (HHA) personal care attendants (PCA), and Consumer Directed Personal Assitance (CDPAP) workers who every day provide home health care to the elderly and disabled. The homecare workers have been vocal participants in 1199’s Fund the Front Lines campaign, in which thousands of 1199ers flooded Congress’s phone lines, inboxes, and offices with petitions demanding resources, protections, compensation, and equipment for essential workers. In late May, 1199SEIU President George Gresham and a host of allies and agency leaders sent a letter to Congressional leaders demanding vital support for homecare workers and agencies to help them remain financially stable, recruit and retain enough workers to care for homebound individuals, and keep the workforce safe and healthy. “This public health crisis will not be over in one wave. And we must be prepared to care for this vulnerable

population while also reducing the risk of continued spread to essential workers an their communities.” “When the COVID-19 outbreak first happened, I was so scared. I feared the unknown,” says Roberts. “But I have two clients who needed me. I have bills to pay, so just like all other home care workers. I continued to go to work, day after day.”

Park, MA, continued to work even as her partner, Preston Robinson, lost his battle with COVID. “I care about people. It’s not just my passion, it’s my purpose,” she says. “it’s not just about me. I’m here to do a job caring for people. It’s therapeutic for me. It soothes my mind knowing that I am helping other people and keeping them safe.” Brown, a Union delegate, says that all those called to this work deserve the same recognition and protections as other front-line caregivers. “We are the frontline right at home,” says Roberts. “We are taking care of mothers and grandmothers. We are keeping them out of nursing homes in safe environments. We deserve the same protections as everyone else.” Roberts is proud of home health workers, but she laments how often they are forgotten. “We risk our own health and safety in the streets and on the subways every day and night,” says Roberts. “It’s good to be recognized but we should have had what we needed from the very beginning.”

“ I care about people. It’s not just my passion, it’s my purpose. It’s not just about me. I’m here to do a job caring for people.” — PCA Gwendolyn Brown

PCA Gwendolyn Brown at her Hyde Park, MA, home. Brown continued to work while caring for her partner before his death from COVID-19.

As providers of in-home care, HHAs and PCAs often faced fearful clients who were worried about workers bringing the virus into their homes. Some were turned away. In other cases, they implemented additional safety precautions to protect themselves and their clients. Some workers sprayed down doorknobs and other with bleach solutions; others reported wearing Tyvek suits they purchased on their own. In New York City, many agencies did their best to provide PPE to workers, but workers were fearful of making the trip to central offices to pick up supplies. 1199SEIU filled the gap with regular drop-offs of donated supplies. In Massachusetts, PCAs who work independently also faced a dangerous PPE shortage. 1199SEIU was the was the only organization distributing masks to PCAs. Like millions of other front liners, HHAs and PCAs had their own concerns on the home front. Gwendolyn Brown, a PCA in Hyde 1199 Magazine 17




May-June 2020

of people to hundreds. In many instances, workers were joined by allies in hoisting signs memorializing George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician who was shot to death by Louisville, KY police officers who failed to identify themselves while executing a notorious “no-knock” warrant in the middle of the night. The police officers who killed Ms. Taylor have yet to be arrested or charged. Janis Westbrook, a CNA at Rosewood Health and Rehab Center in Orlando, FL, brought her grandchildren to the walkout. “I felt so powerful and not alone. I had my grandkids with me. I wanted to let them see. They are from two to twelve years old. It was very powerful,” she said. 1199SEIU President George Gresham joined members at Manhattan’s NY-Presbyterian, the facility where he started his healthcare career, at their walkout. After taking a knee with workers and allies, Gresham reminded the severalhundred-strong crowd to hold on to the energy of the moment. “This cannot conclude until we know that the next generation is not going to go through the struggles that we have gone through,” said Gresham. “We must stay united until we have equal justice for all.”

Robert Kirkman photo

1199SEIU members from Upstate New York to South Florida held a unionwide lunchtime walkout on June 11 to demand police reform and justice for victims of police violence. During the walkout, tens of thousands of workers gathered outside their facilities and took a knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on George Floyd’s neck and suffocated him to death. The actions are part of a global movement that was sparked by Floyd’s death that have brought tens of millions into the streets calling for re-structuring of police funding and a broader conversation about racism and its roots in American culture. “We have had this problem for so long and it’s been ignored. We’ve heard speeches forty and fifty years ago about the same things that are happening today. Everyone is starting to opening their eyes now, but Black and Brown people have always known we are targeted and profiled,” said Ruben Borrero, an environmental service worker at NY-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan. “Now we are seeing what is happening and this is a different moment. This is not just about proving a point, it’s about making a change because there is a serious problem with how the police treat people in communities of color.” The walkouts ranged in size from a handful

NY-Presbyterian Hospital

Buffalo General Hospital

Carolina Kroon photo

Tens of thousands join lunchtime vigils demanding justice and reform.

Long Island Jewish Medical Center

Rose Lincoln photo

Harvard Vanguard


Courtyard Nursing Center Rose Lincoln photo

Mount Sinai West

Brookdale Medical Center

Andrew Lichtenstein photo

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Putting Others First

our hospitals. The policy of releasing such patients to us puts everyone at risk.” RN Jesus Montenegro, a resident of Bergenfield, NJ, and a nurse manager at Bronx Gardens NH, fell ill to the virus on March 19, two days before NJ Gov. Phil Murphy announced a statewide stay-at-home order and five days before New York State’s order. With dangerously low oxygen saturation levels, Montenegro spent a week in ICU and 14 days in isolation at home. “I had diarrhea and fever and no appetite,” he recalls. “I lost 14 pounds in two weeks.”

As COVID-19 raged, concern for their patients kept recovered and vulnerable members on the front lines.

Back To The Front Lines In the battle against COVID-19 there are legions of heroes. Every day, essential workers demonstrated for the world what exemplary care and compassion look like. Among the others who deserve some of the highest praise are those who after being infected, recovered and returned to the front lines. Linda Silva, a CNA at both Beacon NH and Queens Nassau NH, tested positive on March 24. With long-term care facilities leading nation in the percentage of infections and deaths, Silva was on the front lines of some of the pandemic’s most challenging working conditions. When she spoke to 1199 Magazine in late May, she was still suffering some effects of the disease including loss of her smell and taste. “At the time of my infection the city’s nursing homes were not adequately prepared,” she says. “We were severely short-handed and those of us on the job lacked the necessary equipment.” “I was fortunate to be able to isolate myself at home with my husband and two sons,” she says. “Luckily, we have two bathrooms.” Silva returned to work on April 6, but tested positive again on April 18. She left work and returned in May. She continues to worry about her patients and coworkers. “I’m still not confident about the state’s policies and procedures,” she states. “I don’t believe we are prepared for the large influx of very sick patients who are released from 20

May-June 2020

“We now have personal protective equipment we lacked at the beginning. This experience has been a real wake-up call.” —Jesus Montenegro, RN, Bronx Gardens NH

Montenegro says that an added burden in addition to his fear for his health was loneliness and the gloom of isolation. He sorely missed his wife, a Montefiore RN, and three children. “My faith helped to see me through,” he stresses. “I was deluged with prayers from members of my church ministry. And I felt God’s intervention through a nurse and doctor who were treating me.” Although Montenegro is a supervising nurse, he is a member of 1199. “When the nursing home administrators tried to convert me to management, I refused,” he says. “I was involved in too many fights for the Union and I didn’t want to lose the protection and Union benefits.” He returned to work on April 13. The virus was gone but so was much of his strength. “When I tried to help lift patients, I ran out of breath,” he recalls. “I still don’t have the strength to hit high notes. But there’s been a dramatic improvement at work since the lockdown. We now have personal protective equipment we lacked at the beginning. This experience has been a real wake-up call.” McArthur Caesar, an engineering department worker at Beth Israel (BI) Hospital in New York City, also leaned on his faith during his COVID crisis. Previously in excellent health, Caesar experienced worrisome chills one night in late March. “Within 24 hours, I was in pain from head to toe,” he says. “I had never before experienced such pain.” After seeing a doctor at BI, he was told to isolate himself at home away from his wife and grown daughter and son. His wife soon exhibited symptoms, but was able to recover without hospitalization. His recovery is not free of concerns. “I panicked when I walked toward the subway my first day back. But now I’m much more alert,” he says. He is comforted somewhat by improvement in the hospital readiness he’s seen since his return. An ordained elder in his church, Caesar continues to pray with family members and co-workers at BI. “That and the help of the Union gives me strength,” he says. Marcela Vasquez, a transporter at Long Island Community Hospital, contracted the virus on March 23. Her recovery, she says, was somewhat of a roller-coaster ride. It reflected how everyone seemed to be flying blind at the outset of the

“The battle is not over.” — Kevin GyseckStrauss

outbreak. She was shuttled between hospitals, urgent-care clinics and home before finally being cleared to return to work in early June. “At one point, I thought I would die,” Vasquez says. Going through the ordeal with her were her husband and two daughters—Alyssa,13, and Eva, 4. Vasquez was terribly afraid of infecting her daughters and husband. And they were as concerned about her health. “Alyssa didn’t want me to return to work,” Vasquez says. She kept telling me to go to the hospital whenever she noticed that I wasn’t feeling well.” Most difficult for Vasquez was little Eva’s reaction. “During the time I was in isolation at home, Eva would cry outside the door and ask why I couldn’t hold her. I would try to console her while I cried on the other side of the door.” “Now I’m better thanks to the support and prayers of everyone from my church,” Vasquez says.

Vulnerable & Dedicated

 Kevin GysekStrauss, a lead sonographer at Vassar Brother Medical Center in Poughkeepsie, is immunocompromised and at high risk for infection. He took an unpaid leave in April, but returned to his job in May when the situation at Vassar Brothers was more settled.  Mount Sinai Beth Israel Engineer McArthur Caesar credits his faith and the support of his Union with helping him recover from COVID-19.

Some 1199ers with underlying health conditions are also heroically going the extra mile in the battle to defeat COVID-19. 1199 Magazine spoke with two such members from Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie. Kevin Gyseck-Strauss, a lead sonographer in Vassar’s ultrasound department, was born with polystatic kidney disease. He had a kidney transplant in 1996 and today takes 21 pills each day to prevent his body from rejecting the transplant. Because he is immunocompromised he is at high risk for severe illness from a virus infection. “I was dealing with COVID patients when I received a letter in late March from the Montefiore Transplant Center where I had been a patient suggesting that I should not be working.” Gyseck-Strauss says. “I hesitated, but remembered what my mother always told me, ‘Listen to the doctor.’” Gyseck-Strauss took an unpaid leave in April, but returned to work in May when the situation at Vassar was more settled. Al Bruno, a Vassar HVAC worker, is a bladder cancer survivor. “I was declared cancer-free two years ago,” he says proudly. He helps to transform hospital rooms into Airborne Infection Isolation Rooms (AIIR). “My work is not clinical, but occasionally I have to go into patients’ rooms with the full PPE,” he says. “I try to be in a good mood, and I feel that we have proper equipment and are following protocol. Since returning, Gyseck-Strauss has sounded a note of caution. “I hope Gov. Cuomo, our elected officials and the people do the right thing,” he warns. “We can’t afford to give into boredom and exhaustion. It’s too early to celebrate. This battle is not over.” 1199 Magazine 21


Thank You Caravans Caravans bring gratitude (and a little bit of a party) to institutions throughout the regions. 1199SEIU officers, staff, and took time throughout the months of May and June to caravan throughout the Union’s regions to say thank you to caregivers who gave so much to save so many lives. The caravans took place

New York City


May-June 2020

in Massachussets and throughout New York and lined up hundreds of vehicles festooned with banners and signs bearing messages of love and gratitude. Stops along every route turned into much-needed parties, with

1199 supplying the music and members supplying the moves. At press time, caravans were scheduled for New York’s Hudson Valley and Capital Region, New Jersey, and Florida where the event will include PPE delivery.

Upstate NY

Long Island


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Essential, Like Oxygen Respiratory Therapist Daniel Denmark is among the 140 RTs at NY-Presbyterian Medical Center who were on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic. See “The Work We Do� on pages 15 to 17.

1199 Magazine 24

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