Healthcare Heroes to Healthcare Zeroes: Overworked and Undervalued
This piece was written by Local 5 member Fred Dagdag from Kaiser Permanente Maui Lani. Do you want to write for Local 5? Let us know!
It’s only been a year and a half, yet it feels like eternity since COVID-19 disrupted our lives in Hawaii. I remember not knowing how dangerous this new virus is going to be and how it will affect us. Along with my fellow healthcare workers, we’ve had to suck it up and continue to provide the best care to our patients. Remember when we were labeled as “Healthcare Heroes?” It felt awesome! Being appreciated by the community, both local and big businesses giving discounts to healthcare workers, as well as delivering plate lunches, other food items, and desserts for us workers. I can also remember the plain cheese pizza from our employer…yum! It was good while it lasted. Nowadays, that feeling has come and gone. That “Healthcare Hero” feeling has turned us workers feeling like “Healthcare Zeroes.”
I currently work in our Same-day Access/After Hours department as a Licensed Practical Nurse. Our department has been working directly in the front lines from day one of the pandemic, constantly providing direct patient care. We work 12-hour shifts, nights, weekends, and holidays, and provide support to our Primary Care Physicians who are unable to see their own patients throughout the day. We have swabbed thousands of patients for COVID testing in our parking lot in a tent, exposed to the hot sun and in the rain.
A few days ago, I went into work during our change of shift. It was pure madness. I haven’t even clocked in to work yet and was already being asked to start an IV and to room patients. Looking at the exam rooms, there were already patients waiting for nursing treatment, and providers waiting for their rooms to be filled with another patient.
While two medical assistants and triage nurse scramble to do patient intakes with a full capacity waiting room full of socially distanced patients, three of us covered the floor doing treatments, assisting our providers, answering phone calls, wiping down the exam rooms and rooming patients. We went from room to room, treatment after treatment getting each task done. At one point, patients that were concerned asked if I was ok because I was out of breath and sweating profusely when I entered the room. It’s difficult wearing and breathing through an N-95 mask, a surgical mask over it, and protective eyewear. On top of that, constantly running back and forth gathering supplies needed for our nursing treatments that needed to be done. I was only scheduled for a 4 hour shift that evening, imagine doing all of that and more for 12 hours a day?
“It feels like a war zone every day!” states one of my co-workers, talking about the recent influx of patients walking into the clinic. At the end of our shifts, we are run-down and exhausted. Another one of my co-workers stated that “Our shortage of staff has created physical and emotional exhaustion that is beginning to affect our productivity at work as well as our relationships with loved ones at home.” Through the challenges and hardships we face, we go back to work each day and continue to provide the best care that we can.
When short staffed or have a last-minute sick call, staff being called to come in are not being regularly offered overtime or emergency call back pay – which makes a huge difference. If staff is in dire need of help, shouldn’t you upstaff and increase resources so we can continue to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. Isn’t that our mission at Kaiser?
Early this year, I was asked by Local 5 organizer Cindy Aban to become involved with UNITE HERE Local 5 as a committee leader. Through her mentorship, I saw the power and unity of Local 5 and its impact on so many lives, especially the lives of their members. Our social media is filled with “victories” of my fellow hospitality, and food service industry brothers and sisters in their current battles. Some victories that hit close to home are the reopening of smaller clinics on Maui and the neighbor islands. Lastly, our huge victory at Kaiser Wailuku clinic where Local 5 played a tremendous role in keeping two essential departments open.
The current struggles that we face are on the table at our current contract negotiations with Kaiser. Hearing the powerful and emotional testimonies from fellow healthcare workers throughout the state, shows that “the struggle is real,” and that we all are facing them together. Having our union brothers and sisters on our side fighting with us, gives me hope that all will turn out well in the end.
I personally dread going to work these days. Is safe and appropriate staffing too much to ask for? Or not having to worry about undue hardship because of having to work short? It would be nice to have days at work where we can have a moment to just breathe. It is disheartening to see my fellow healthcare workers trying to get through their day without breaking down. Healthcare workers are feeling overworked and undervalued. I do have hopes that things will get better; as long as we healthcare workers stick together, voice our concerns and fight the good fight, I know in time we will have our victory.