YNMG & COVID: Hail The Hospital Workers!

Apr 28, 2020

We devote episode 52 to some of the many people working on the front lines of the pandemic caring for COVID patients in New Mexico, sometimes without enough protective gear to feel safe. We ask them what urgent calls to reopen the economy sound like from where they're standing. And we find out how it's going for them, whether they're supported and heard by the institutions they work in. 

We hear from Tessa Jenner, an Emergency Department trauma tech at the University of New Mexico Hospital, who talks about wishing there were hazard pay so if she does have to quarantine or take time off to heal up from coronavirus exposure, she could remain financially secure. 

Walter Dehority is a pediatric infectious disease specialist at UNMH, who says we have to learn the "why" of the virus. Plus, he's got two more reasons you can't compare this thing to the flu: 1) no vaccine for coronavirus, and 2) no treatment. 

Dr. Sriram Shamasunder arrived in the Navajo Nation last week with a team of nurses and doctors from UCSF's HEAL Initiative to help care for the disproportionately large number of patients there. He tells us all about the team's special training and collaboration with the Navajo Nation, and jumping in right away to pitch in. 

Early this morning, our host Khalil Ekulona caught up with Hunter Marshall, an RN at UNMH who was on KUNM's show "Let's Talk New Mexico" last week, and who thought today would be one of his last shifts. He was threatened with discipline for speaking to the media about staff concerns at the hospital. So he decided to resign, he says, and look for another hospital to work in during the pandemic. His last day was supposed to be Friday, May 1. He showed up for work this morning and says he found his badge deactivated and his name not on the schedule. Marshall says he missed info in an email from a manager telling him not to come for his last shifts, though the hospital would still pay him for them.

Here's UNMH's full statement on the matter, from spokesperson Mark Rudi. 

“We recognize and support our employees and provide several outlets for employees to express concerns, questions or opinions on matters. Those range from direct communication with their supervisor, or during the regular leadership rounding that takes place with each unit, and of course emailing leadership or speaking to them at the regular town halls and other management meetings. When it comes to interaction with the media, we work with our employees to make sure they understand our policies regarding representing their opinions as their own, and not those of the hospital.”

KUNM host and reporter Megan Kamerick got an interview with two doctors on UNMH's PPE committee: Dr. Eve Espey, professor and chair of Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Dr. Steve McLaughlin, chair of Emergency Medicine. She spoke with them about Marshall's specific concerns, including not being allowed to use respirators staff members bring in on their own, which they say can be even more effective than re-using limited N95s. 

And lastly, we hear from local Hospital Employees Union Executive Director Eleanor Chavez. She says it's illegal for hospitals to discipline staff who are speaking up about what they need during the pandemic, and the union has filed two whistleblower lawsuits. She also talks about for-profit hospital layoffs during a crisis, and about Lovelace and UNMH refusing to disclose staff COVID infection numbers.

And a news update: Our media partner the Santa Fe Reporter says today that the CDC is giving the state 6.6 million dollars to do more COVID testing and contact tracing. There were 153 new cases today, bringing the total to 2,974. Six people died. Overall, 110 people in New Mexico are confirmed to have died from the virus.

There are 53 new COVID cases in the Navajo Nation, according to the Department of Health there, for a total of 1,769. A special spot for coronavirus patients in the Chinle Community Center should be up and running this weekend, KOB reports, and another is under construction in Shiprock, plus there’s already one in Gallup.

 

Two more people incarcerated in the Bernalillo County jail tested positive for COVID-19, according to documents the Albuquerque Journal got from an attorney who filed a public records request. It’s unclear when the jail knew about the new positive tests.

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

 

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How are things going for you? We want to know. Share your quarantine stories by calling: (505) 218-7084 and leaving us a message. We could roll them into a future episode.

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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.