Hospitals’ Greed Sacrifices Their Nurses
Advocate Aurora, Ascension, and Froedtert are wealthy but won’t protect nurses during pandemic.
Last month, an ICU nurse at a local hospital experienced two of the three main symptoms of COVID-19 after working directly with confirmed positive patients. The employer refused to test the nurse, and mandated two weeks at home without pay unless hard earned PTO was taken. All of this because the nurse couldn’t prove the infection occurred at work. This worker knowingly sacrificed their health and wellbeing to care for another during this pandemic and could not get care themself. Is this an appropriate way to honor that sacrifice?
At a lab company at a nearby hospital, lab workers who process COVID-19 tests are being forced to furlough every other week to make up for money lost from the reduction in nonemergency services. Doing one of the most important jobs during a global pandemic means you now get paid half of a normal salary just to save a multi-million dollar company money. As we strive to make testing more available, efficient and effective, why are healthcare corporations forcing frontline lab workers to work with double the stress for half the pay while struggling to feed their families?
Over the past month, our nation has celebrated healthcare workers with Lab Professionals Week and most recently, National Nurses Week. We at WFNHP, a statewide union of thousands of healthcare workers, are calling on healthcare corporations and employers to go beyond “thank you, heroes” yard signs and take meaningful action to ensure the safety and dignity of all healthcare workers during this crisis.
Instead, healthcare corporations spent their time lobbying the governor to reopen the economy. They’re writing out-of-touch op eds requesting that struggling community members keep healthcare workers safe “by continuing to stay home, keep social distances and wash your hands.”
There is plenty more that healthcare executives can do to keep frontline health workers safe. While nurses, housekeepers and others are forced to reuse N95 masks and work in dangerous conditions, corporations and executives are sitting on billions of dollars. Ascension, the corporation that owns St. Joseph’s, St. Francis’ and St. Mary’s hospitals in the Milwaukee area, paid its CEO $59.1 million between 2014 and 2017. Froedtert reported $961 million in assets in tax filings for 2017, yet they cut pay for some nurses in 2019. In late March, federal stimulus legislation gave billions of dollars in subsidies to the healthcare industry. Ascension, the largest healthcare corporation in the country, was awarded just under $34 million total for just 11 of their 23 Wisconsin hospitals. Ascension St. Francis Hospital in Milwaukee received $3.1 million. These are outrageous amounts of money going to already wealthy people and corporations. Clearly, there is money to meet healthcare workers’ demands – and more.
So-called “not for profit” healthcare corporations like Advocate Aurora, Ascension, and Froedtert, have plenty of resources that could and should be reprioritized to provide Milwaukee’s frontline caregivers proper protective gear, hazard pay, no-fault sick leave, no-cost medical coverage, and pay continuation if furloughed. Not a single employee in any of those systems maintains all five of those basic protections, despite their sacrifices. The fact that these “not for profit” entities are choosing to advocate to put more lives in danger is an insult to the very healthcare professionals that they are refusing to invest in.
Amidst this corporate greed, patients are the ones that lose. Healthcare is still not affordable, and if healthcare professionals are worried about the virus spreading to their families because of inadequate PPE, or are forced to work mandatory overtime due to staffing shortages, how much energy do they have left to focus on patient care? Despite these circumstances, healthcare workers are doing all they can to ensure their patients receive the highest quality care possible. Their efforts are heroic, but they’re also human.
Instead of selfishly advocating for the state to reopen so that they can resume lucrative elective surgeries, healthcare executives should be advocating for legislation providing much needed relief for healthcare workers and their financially struggling families. Measures like a moratorium on rent and mortgages and free childcare would relieve the stress of frontline workers in healthcare and other essential industries, while also benefiting the community at large.
In the past few months, we have called on our healthcare professionals to risk their lives in order to care for the victims of this pandemic, and they’ve heroically stepped up to the challenge. The time is past due to ask the same of healthcare employers.
The Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals represents nurses & health professionals throughout the state of Wisconsin and is the local affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers healthcare division, which represents more than 130,000 nurses and health professionals in a variety of disciplines and settings.
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