Nursing Home Workers Express Severity of the Crisis

Dave Mager
June 18, 2020 - 8:23 pm
Messages at a Memorial for Nursing Home Workers, Bushnell Park, Hartford, 6/18/20

Dave Mager, WTIC News

"The virus is much more serious than anyone is giving it credit for."

Tanya Beckford learned the hard way. A certified nursing assistant (CNA), she's been desperately ill with COVID-19 for months. 

Finally on her feet, she spoke Thursday at a Bushnell Park memorial service organized by her union, SEIU 1199 NE. The union represented 14 nursing home workers who've died, and hundreds who've also contracted the novel coronavirus. 

Through a heavy plastic mask, Beckford said she was so sick at one point, her husband thought she had died in bed. He was able to shake her awake.

"When I got sick...I just thought it was a death sentence," said Beckford, "I never thought that at 49 that I would be making a decision of if I'm going to survive or not."

Beckford did lose an uncle to COVID-19.

Also addressing the union members, State Rep. Ed Vargas (D/Hartford) said he lost his father to the disease. He's 71, and makes it a point to wear a mask everywhere he goes. 

Vargas noted that some influential people, like President Trump, prefer to leave the mask behind. "I'm really outraged that some of our leaders set a bad example for the nation, and put people at risk."

Jesse Martin, VP and Director of Nursing Homes for SEIU 1199 NE, expressed the many challenges facing healthcare workers and their families:

"Over 3,000 nursing home workers (in CT) have contracted the disease at work, along with over 3,000 long-term care residents who've passed away from COVID."

"This week, I've received multiple phone calls from nursing homes we represent where the employers are rationing the PPE (personal protective equipment), limiting access to PPE at shift changes, and we brought these to the attention of the Department of Public Health (DPH) over the last three months and little to no action has been taking place from the DPH to ensure that employers are held accountable."

(WTIC has e-mailed requests for comment to DPH and to the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities, which represents nursing homes in the state.)

"One of the hardest fights that we're having right now is that those workers who passed away due to COVID being contracted at work, their families have to file workmen's compensation claims... A significant number of workers... are not having their claims approved. That seems like insult to injury to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice."

Martin also says that the union represents more than 10,000 members who work in patients' homes. He says this group is not categorized as "essential" by the state, so members are not getting appropriate PPE or testing. A list of ten items submitted to the state legislature this week includes a measure that would cover these home healthcare workers as "essential," just like their peers at nursing homes and assisted living facilites.