LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Do Nurses and Healthcare Workers at Aspirus Langlade Hospital Deserve Paid Sick Leave for COVID, Hazard Pay and Safe Staffing?
Across the country, nurses and healthcare workers have been on the frontlines of this pandemic for the last 9 months. We are tired, but our efforts to care for our patients and our community don’t end when we leave the bedside.
Right now, we – nurses and healthcare workers who work at Aspirus Langlade Hospital – are bargaining with Aspirus administration for a new contract to protect and respect us on the frontlines and at home. Our concerns from the frontlines aren’t always seen by administrators, whether they’re in Antigo or in Wausau at Aspirus’ headquarters. So, thankfully, we are able to negotiate with administration because we are members of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. After speaking with community members, they are often quite surprised that we, the frontline healthcare workers, are not offered these benefits of paid sick leave and hazard pay. Wouldn’t it seem logical during a pandemic that the very people that are faced with this every single day would be taken care of, especially if they are sick? Unfortunately, that is not the case. ALH is losing nurses almost every week because we are not offered these benefits. Other companies and health care systems do offer these benefits, and people want to go work where they feel safe.
We have met on multiple occasions with Aspirus’ administration to discuss terms of the contract. WFNHP members have repeatedly asked for paid sick leave, hazard pay, and clear staffing limits for our nurses and health professionals, but we have received a harsh “NO” every single time. Too many frontline staff are working 12+ hours a day, every single day, with COVID patients. While we all take precautions with the proper personal protective equipment, can anyone say that we unequivocally would not catch COVID from a patient or coworker? Aspirus tells us that if we do contract COVID that it must come from the community. With that being said, we do not get the same treatment as community members. We are not to follow the exact recommendations for quarantining from the CDC and health departments; Aspirus has made their own rules. Even if we are required to stay at home related to a COVID illness, we must use our earned PTO – vacation time. What if an employee does not have enough PTO to cover their absence? How do bills get paid? How do groceries get bought? Are we so invaluable that we do not deserve to use our well-earned PTO for an actual vacation when the pandemic subsides? We informed administration that nurses on the frontlines fear not being able to afford to stay home if they get COVID-19. That is a scary reality, and it does not have to be this way. Aspirus can offer us paid COVID leave.
We are the last lines of defense in this health crisis. Nobody sees what we see on the frontlines. We are tired. We are scared. We are working tirelessly to care for patients at a time when family members cannot even visit them. We are their caregivers, advocates, and we offer a hand to hold when they are all alone. None of us on the frontlines really ever expected to have to live and work through something like COVID, and we just want to be taken care of, too. We don’t need to be called “heroes,” but we do need basic protections and respect.
We would like to say to our community: please stand by us, the WFNHP members and frontline workers, and tell Aspirus and Matt Heywood, President/CEO of Aspirus, to support our “healthcare heroes.” We deserve paid sick leave for COVID, hazard pay, and safer staffing. We will all get through this if we take care of each other. Please give us the tools to take care of ourselves so we can keep caring for our patients – you and your families.
WFNHP Bargaining Team
Submitted by Barb Pomasl RN – Bargaining Member