SEIU Healthcare Minnesota represents over 40,000 healthcare workers in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and self-directed home care, in every community in the state. On behalf of these essential workers providing frontline care to Minnesotans during the COVID-19 pandemic, I am writing to urge you to extend our state’s peacetime emergency.
Many of our members are risking their lives every day of this pandemic, just by going in to work and doing their jobs. Every day we learn of more healthcare workers stuck at home because they’ve tested positive for COVID-19, and some days we get the tragic news that another healthcare worker has died as a result of their exposure at work. Just this Monday, healthcare workers gathered near North Memorial Medical Center to mourn and remember LarryDean Goodrich, a phlebotomist and longtime union member at North Memorial, who died of COVID-19. Let there be no doubt: for healthcare workers, this disease remains an emergency.
While PPE supplies in some healthcare settings have improved over the last few weeks, the overwhelming majority of home care workers continue to have no access to PPE, and in a recent Telephone Town Hall meeting of nursing home workers across the state, more than 50% reported that their facilities continue to lack adequate PPE supply. Home care workers continue to lack sufficient sick time to remain home during a two-week quarantine, sufficient pay to keep enough workers showing up to care for their clients during the pandemic, and the funding for overtime hours that’s needed for those workers still willing to come to work to put in more hours. We are a long way from the conditions that would justify an end to the peacetime emergency.
But nowhere is the continuing crisis clearer than in nursing homes and other congregate care settings. We would invite anyone with doubts about whether COVID-19 remains an emergency to visit one of the state’s many nursing homes with large outbreaks – except that, appropriately, visitors are barred from entering those facilities. For nursing home residents and workers – and especially for residents and workers who are Black and Brown – every day presents a very real chance of COVID-19 infection, and in far too many cases, death. The numbers should be familiar to everyone at this point: 80% of COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota have been among residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Black Minnesotans account for 22% of confirmed COVID cases, while making up less than 6% of the state’s population. An ending of the peacetime emergency and all the protections for Minnesotans that have been enabled by it would be an insult to the courageous work being done every day by nursing assistants, nurses, housekeepers, dietary workers, laundry workers and other frontline staff in our nursing homes – a group that includes several thousand Black and Brown immigrants. It would also disrespect and dishonor the residents those workers serve, who we have every reason to believe will continue to be the primary victims of this disease for many months to come.
If the peacetime emergency is not extended, the critical funding available to nursing homes under MN 12A.10 would soon expire. Many nursing homes have used these expedited reimbursements to pay for important anti-COVID measures like additional staffing, paid leave for suspected COVID cases, hero pay, and PPE.
The peacetime state of emergency you signed into law on March 13 allowed the state to open a toolbox of other resources and to take decisive action to protect Minnesotans, including:
- Measures to procure, preserve, and distribute PPE
- A 5-point “battle plan” to address the crisis in our nursing homes, including deploying the National Guard to assist with testing
- Temporary suspension of some of the normal procedures in home care programs that were preventing people with disabilities and seniors from getting care
- Establishing free, safe transportation for essential healthcare workers in the Twin Cities metropolitan area
- Efforts to provide economic relief and stability to those impacted by the pandemic
- Regulatory changes allowing state agencies to ensure fast relief to Minnesotans
- Enhanced protections for veterans in veterans’ homes
This is just a small sub-set of the urgently needed measures undertaken under the peacetime emergency. Extending the peacetime state of emergency allows the state to continue taking those kinds of steps to make sure Minnesotans stay safe. An extension will also ensure that the Executive Orders already in place remain in effect and that we continue to have the flexibility to respond quickly to needs that arise across the state, especially among the frontline caregivers risking their lives every day when they go to work, and the patients, residents and clients they serve.
Jamie Gulley, President