MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin health care workers on the front lines of treating patients with the coronavirus called on state lawmakers Wednesday to get them more protective equipment, expand health care coverage and provide fully-paid sick leave and hazard pay.
Gov. Tony Evers on Wednesday signed a COVID-19 response bill passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature that does not include any of those provisions. Evers and other Democrats have also called on the Legislature to do more to help those struggling during the pandemic.
A letter signed by 37 Democratic members of the Legislature that was sent to Republican leaders on Monday called for the increased protections for nurses, paramedics, housekeeping staff, cafeteria workers and others who are in close contact with coronavirus patients.
Kathy Hintz, a housekeeper at a hospital in Appleton for the past 10 years, broke down in tears when describing having to clean the room after a person had died of COVID-19. She and others spoke on a conference call Wednesday organized by SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin.
“When I went to the room, I didn’t have the protection I needed,” Hintz said. “So I was wearing two hairnets, two surgical masks, three pairs of gloves and some booties on my feet and scrubs. This is not adequate.”
Hintz said she worried about disposing of everything that may have been infected with the virus and whether she had been exposed.
“It was overwhelming. I broke out in hives because I was so stressed out,” she said. “When I accepted this job as a housekeeper, I didn’t ever think I might be signing my death certificate. No one should have to feel like that going into work.”
She and others said they were struggling to meet the demands of the job while also worrying about their personal safety.
“We’re on the front lines of this pandemic and we need more than a thank you,” said Demetricia Shipp, a nurse’s assistant in Milwaukee with 35 years of experience working in health care.
Randi Payne, a nurse’s assistant at a nursing home in Sheboygan, said she doesn’t have face shields or goggles when working with elderly patients, many of whom have preexisting conditions.
“I don’t want to spread this to our patients or bring it home to my 12-year-old son or husband,” she said.
Lisa Gordon, a nurse’s assistant at a nursing home in Monroe, said she resorts to wearing the same mask seven days in a row because there aren’t enough to go around.
”Things need to change,” she said.
State and local health care leaders have been working to procure more personal protective equipment like masks, gloves and face shields in the midst of a national shortage. The Wisconsin Hospital Association reported that as of Wednesday, a third or more of hospitals had less than a week’s supply of face shields, goggles, N95 masks, gowns and paper masks.
When asked to respond to the request, Assembly Speaker Rob Vos’s spokeswoman Kit Beyer referred to an April 3 letter sent to Evers by Republican lawmakers asking him to prioritize the acquiring of personal protective equipment for health care workers when spending federal aid.
As of Wednesday, 182 people had died from COVID-19 in Wisconsin and there were more than 3,700 confirmed cases, according to the state Department of Health Services.