Workers: UPMC has ‘shortcomings’

A group associated with SEIU Healthcare PA that calls itself “Hospital Workers Rising” has accused UPMC of shortcomings in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

The group cites “unsafe workplace practices, lack of access to necessary safety equipment, persistent and dangerous disrespect from management, lack of information and a culture of silencing and intimidation that increases the risk of UPMC employees and patients contracting or spreading COVID-19” — along with pay not commensurate with risks employees are taking, according to a news release with attachments from the organization.

UPMC contested the accusations in an email, saying it does its best to keep employees safe and its facilities clean, it has enough PPE and that it treats its employees well.

It has become dangerous to work at UPMC Altoona, because of the required sharing of personal protective equipment between workers and between patients, said registered nurse Leann Oppel, who was quoted in a news release sent out by a consulting firm.

Workers want to protect themselves and their patients but “UPMC is making that impossible,” Oppel stated.

“We know UPMC is afraid of us speaking publicly about these terrible safety standards, because they continue to threaten us for doing so,” Oppel said.

The group is demanding more protective equipment, a “voice in the decision-making process” and wages commensurate with (workers’) importance and the risks they are taking.

Members of the group met electronically last week with state Reps. Dan Frankel and Summer Lee from the Pittsburgh area, and Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner. Frankel and Lee provided supportive statements for the group that were included in the news release.

“We care about each employee’s well being, and we are fully committed to ensuring that all staff are kept safe and treated fairly and equitably,” UPMC said in its email.

Not only is there an “adequate” supply of PPE, but all employees receive ongoing education about its safe use, according to the health system.

UPMC also has “infection control standards in place to ensure this equipment is used and cleaned properly, and in line with guidance from the CDC,” the health system stated.

There’s daily communication with staff throughout the organization and the wages and benefits “are competitive with health care organizations in the region,” UPMC stated.

“We have a number of programs in place to protect our employees from financial loss, including pay for staff members who are quarantined at home as well as pay for those who do not have work,” UPMC said.

In addition to calling for elimination of “persistent and dangerous disrespect” and “the culture of silencing and intimidation,” the employee group is demanding:

— Better employee access controls to prevent overcrowding, with barriers, employee-only entrances, staggered shifts and screening.

— More limitations on face-to-face interactions with the public.

— Better decontamination and cleaning practices in work areas.

— Provision of work clothing, along with designated areas for putting it on before work and taking it off afterward.

— Creation of a COVID-19 task force that includes frontline staff and that conducts daily briefings with all staffers.

— Provision of appropriate personal protective equipment, including gloves, masks, N95s and either respirators or hoods, along with disinfectant and sanitizer.

— Quarantining of staffers who are exposed to COVID-19 or who fail screenings with 14 days of paid administrative leave, even if they don’t have symptoms.

— Reassignment of staffers who are especially susceptible to harm from COVID-19 to roles with little interaction with others.

— Provision of all-hours child care.

— Provision of alternative housing for those who must quarantine or who have at-risk family members.

— Provision of unlimited sick time for workers with COVID-19, with no requirement to use paid time off.

— Maintenance of health insurance for those who are quarantining or infected.

— Permission for all workers who must quarantine or who become infected to reclaim their positions afterward.

— Provision of mental health support.


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