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YNMG & COVID: Hail Sanitation!

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The streets are quieter. Restaurants and bars are empty. But the trash is still picked up each week, homes are still getting cleaned and hospitals are still sanitized for safety. On episode 63, we honor the bravery of domestic cleaners, hospital janitors, sanitation workers and home health workers. They're front-line workers who need more than just thanks—they need fair pay and proper protection during the pandemic.

We hear from Delmy Nova and Alicia Hernandez, two housekeeping staff at UNM Hospital who say they aren't being given the same PPE as doctors and nurses even though they work in the same spaces, they haven't been trained on how to use new disinfectant chemicals, and they have colleagues who've been required to work in COVID units despite reporting health conditions that put them at high risk of complications from the virus. Nova and Hernandez told KUNM's Yasmin Khan they're proud of their work keeping the hospital running, but live in fear that they could expose their own family members to the virus. 

Khan spoke with another UNMH custodial worker who said she and her coworkers are being discriminated against and even barred from the staff eating area, because other hospital employees are aware that the cleaning crew doesn't have sufficient PPE. We hear about the serious emotional toll the working environment is taking on her, as she's witnessing people get sick and die of COVID. She told Khan she's even taken in family members of patients who come into UNMH, because they've traveled into Albuquerque to get their loved one treatment and have nowhere else to go.

UNMH spokesperson Mark Rudi did not respond to many of the specific concerns presented by these workers that KUNM sent over via email. Here's what Rudi sent in response:


 "We take all allegations of mistreatment seriously, and will look into these claims, but we can tell you that employee and patient safety is our top priority at University of New Mexico Hospital."

Find his full statement here.

We hear from Anita Reta, a UNM student who launched a GoFundMe effort to aid UNMH custodial staff and is concerned about low-wage workers who aren't being protected or treated equitably. 

Mayte Lopez with Encuentro NM tells us about the work of home health aides, some of whom have lost their incomes during the pandemic. She says domestic workers who are still on the job often lack PPE and hazard pay, and many fear that the people whose homes they work in aren't taking the right safety precautions. 

We hear from Valerie Tsosie with the Navajo Family Caregiver Support Program about the pressures faced by caregivers on the Navajo Nation, where internet and cell service is spotty and there are a lack of professionals who speak Navajo in health care settings.

And Billy Gallegos, deputy director of the City of Albuquerque Solid Waste Department, gives an update on sanitation workers, who are continuing their services as normal during the crisis. 

We're keeping a complete list of the resources and volunteer opportunities that we find for each episode at bit.ly/YNMGhub. Here's what we got from today.

 How are things going for you? We want to know. Share your pandemic stories by leaving us a message at: (505) 218-7084. We might use it in a future episode.


Your New Mexico Government is a collaboration between KUNM, New Mexico PBS, and the Santa Fe Reporter. Funding for our coverage is provided, in part, by the Thornburg Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the New Mexico Local News Fund.

Marisa Demarco began a career in radio at KUNM News in late 2013 and covered public health for much of her time at the station. During the pandemic, she is also the executive producer for Your NM Government and No More Normal, shows focused on the varied impacts of COVID-19 and community response, as well as racial and social justice. She joined Source New Mexico as editor-in-chief in 2021.
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