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Local caregivers demand proper protective equipment and hazard pay

1199SEIU Florida, the state’s largest healthcare union, and House Representative Webb joined frontline workers fighting for increased protections.

ST. PETERSBURG — At Northside Hospital, a group of Tampa Bay caregivers demanded better protections from HCA Healthcare, a healthcare facility operator for locations across the state, as the number of new coronavirus infections in the state nearly topped 9,000 Friday.

The group on Friday delivered a letter to management and gathered outside to call for increased personal protective equipment and hazard pay for workers as they remain on the front lines in the midst of the outbreak. Rep. Jennifer Webb, D-St. Petersburg, joined in support.

All workers who have patient contact should be guaranteed the proper personal protective equipment, specifically N95 respirator masks, said Bob Gibbons, the vice president of 1199SEIU Florida, the state’s largest healthcare union.

According the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, N95 respirators filter at least 95 percent of airborne particles. As of now, the group says they aren’t being fully supplied.

In addition, the group is demanding increased pay because of their elevated risk in contracting the coronavirus as frontline workers.

“We believe every time a healthcare worker passes through those doors, they are entering a hazardous environment and should be provided hazard pay,” said Gibbons, 45.

HCA Healthcare did not respond to requests by the Times for comment.

Webb said it’s crucial the government get involved. According to Webb, it’s time to start tackling the pandemic as a long-term crisis as opposed to short-term issue by providing broader protections for workers. She says the protections the group is calling for — including hazard pay and proper equipment — should apply to hospitals as well as assisted living facilities and nursing homes.

Webb would like to see state government address the concerns arising from the pandemic by having lawmakers convene a special session in Tallahassee.

“Now is the time to go back into a special session,” said Webb. “We can’t wait until November.”

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