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Thurs., March 26, 2020

Amy Clark, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW


In this time of community health crisis it is incumbent on all of us to do everything in our power to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and protect those who are least likely to survive the disease. As a union of nurses and healthcare workers working in hospitals, clinics and behavioral health centers across Washington state, we are rising to the challenge of the COVID-19 crisis by doing what we always do: providing the best care we can to all of our patients.

We expect our employers to provide the protections and support we need to be able to work safely, and in public hospitals we expect state agencies to set a high standard for the health and safety of all of our employees. That five workers at Western State Hospital have tested positive for COVID-19 is ample proof that the Department of Social and Health Services, Department of Health, and Department of Children, Youth and Families need to do more to protect our members.

On March 2, members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW at Western State Hospital asked DSHS, DOH and DCYF to come to the table to discuss basic protection for us during the pandemic: proper personal protective equipment and training in how to use it; paid leave if we become ill with COVID-19; a guarantee that those of us with underlying conditions will not have to work on units with COVID-19 patients; and enhancements in pay for those of us willing to sacrifice our health and, potentially, the health of our own families, to take care of those infected with this virulent disease.

The agencies waited three weeks to meet with union members to discuss these principles—principles to which multiple large health systems in our state have agreed to. During that meeting, agency leaders made no tangible commitments to protect clients and staff, and showed very little willingness to implement basic safety standards for frontline workers.

At Western State, we continue to demand the following specific needs for safe patient care:

  1. A hospital ward designated specifically for COVID-19 patients;
  2. A voluntary COVID-19 team assigned exclusively to the COVID-19 ward;
  3. Training for proper PPE usage, as well as PPE provided to all COVID-19 team members, screeners, and any employees caring for patients with COVID-like symptoms;
  4. Immediate testing for employees with COVID-19 symptoms or who were exposed or working on the floors with COVID-19 patients; and
  5. A COVID-19 expert hired by Western State Hospital to assist in developing and implementing COVID-19 policies.

While Washington’s state and local governments have led the nation on securing the safety of our communities during this unprecedented crisis, in the case of Western State Hospital we are demanding that DSHS and DOH commit to the values guiding the rest of the state’s efforts to address the novel coronavirus.

Today we reassert our demand: For DSHS, which oversees Western State Hospital, to sit across the table from us to discuss how we can prevent any more workers from contracting COVID-19. We are prepared to do what is needed to keep residents, clients and patients safe, but we need the state to be prepared to do what is needed for us and our coworkers as well.


SEIU Healthcare 1199NW is a union of nurses and healthcare workers with over 30,000 caregivers throughout hospitals, clinics, mental health, skilled home health and hospice programs in 
Washington state and Montana. 

SEIU Healthcare 1199NW’s mission is to advocate for quality care and good jobs for all.

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