Over the last few months, our country has tirelessly battled the grip the novel coronavirus has had on hundreds of thousands of Americans.
Now, as infection rates are projected to peak in the coming weeks, there is a hope that the end is in sight.
However, essential workers on the front lines are still confronting the daily reality of scarce medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE). As all kinds of industries encounter this reality and many employers scramble to resolve this challenge, our country is coming together to face this once-in-a-lifetime public health crisis.
Regrettably, not everyone has put up a unified front when it comes to fighting this pandemic.
For example, National Nurses United, the nation’s largest nurses’ union, has staged protests at hospitals across the country in recent weeks, agitating for more protective supplies, better hours and improved pay.
No one argues that it is important to ensure our nurses are adequately equipped to treat patients and are fairly compensated for their work, but the reality is protesting hospitals will not help solve the safety issue nor facilitate the production of PPE.
Hospitals are working around the clock to secure the vital supplies and funding their nurses seek.
Large healthcare associations from across the country have also urged the administration to immediately ramp up the production of PPE, highlighting the importance of using the Defense Production Act to increase the production of desperately needed supplies. But if these products are not yet manufactured, there is only so much that can be done.
These facilities are already stretched to the limit treating COVID-19 patients. Disrupting them any further with picket lines and rallies will not improve outcomes for patients nor healthcare workers.
Instead, numerous avenues exist to address patient and employee safety concerns, and unions should work within this system to ensure the safety of their members.
Patient Safety Organizations, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) all have mechanisms in place to address patient and healthcare worker safety issues. A patchwork of state public health laws and regulations also supplement existing federal statute.
And when taking into account the oversight provided by professional organizations, healthcare payors, and government entities such as inspectors general, state attorneys general and U.S. attorneys general, it becomes clear that numerous safeguards are in place that can be leveraged to ensure worker safety, without demonstrating in front of hospitals.
Guidance and resources are also evolving as we learn more about COVID-19. Many of the standards for worker protection that the CDC and OSHA issued just a few weeks ago are no longer current, and measures that unions are agitating for today may prove obsolete tomorrow.
The best thing that can be done now is to report safety concerns as they arise within the existing framework and take steps as possible to correct them.
By documenting the shortcomings of our existing system now, it will allow stakeholders from across the spectrum to come together after this pandemic has passed and ensure we are better prepared for the next public health crisis.
An extensive report was recently conducted by the federal government to identify key challenges hospitals across the country are facing. Three out of four U.S. hospitals, according to the report, are currently treating patients with confirmed or suspected coronavirus cases and are uncertain about how to prioritize the use of their limited supplies.
Specifically, a hospital official in Broward County, Florida, asserted that the “government needs to provide guidelines on ethics if health resources are limited and decisions need to be made about which patients to treat.”
It’s hardly the time to sow discord when healthcare workers are facing such life and death decisions.
No one will dispute that our healthcare workers are vital members of our country’s medical system. They deserve our honor and respect every day, and especially during these challenging times.
But given the strain our healthcare system faces, unions could better serve their members by trying to find ways to work collaboratively with medical facilities and those that are part of the industry to help solve the issues our country faces when treating coronavirus patients.
Now is not the time for division. Americans must put disagreements aside and fight this pandemic together.
We will overcome COVID-19, but in order to fully defeat this virus, we must fight it all together.