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No Clear Path for Two California Hospital Workers

By Pete Levine ·
No Clear Path for Two California Hospital Workers
Pictured: Jackie Garcia. Member-provided photo.

While some health care workers are knee deep in the battle to treat patients suffering from COVID-19, countless other health care workers are feeling its devastating impact, even if the places they work haven’t seen a surge in coronavirus patients.

Two of those health care workers are Jackie Garcia and Carla Cambra.

These AFSCME Council 57 members, who live in the Bay area and work at the same small hospital in northern California, are suffering through the pandemic like so many Americans, navigating a new world that’s turned upside down while they prepare for the worst. Neither of them wanted to identify the hospital where they work for fear of reprisals from management.

For Garcia, a surgical technician, the pandemic has meant that the hospital is no longer performing nonessential surgeries, a precaution many hospitals have taken to limit the possibility of the spread of COVID-19.

That means her hours as a surgery technician, someone who lays out the instrumentation for physicians in the operating room, among other duties, have been dramatically cut. While she’s still working, assisting during essential surgeries, her income has been gutted.

“The way it’s going now, I honestly don’t see how I’ll be able to pay my mortgage,” says Garcia.

Garcia has applied for unemployment and, like so many others, has been trying to navigate the complex maze of filling out forms, waiting on a non-functioning website, and hoping her claim is approved.

“At this point, I’m waiting to see what unemployment says. I did consider applying to the post office or Amazon or Safeway – whoever is hiring at this point,” said Garcia.

It’s a shocking prospect for a 20-year hospital veteran.

Cambra is a respiratory therapist who performs many different functions at that small hospital, from assisting when babies need resuscitation to educating clients about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She has a gnawing fear of what might happen in case of an influx of COVID-19 patients to her hospital, much of it having to do with a lack of a defined strategy from management.

“We need clear guidelines,” says Cambra. “Do we have the equipment we need to do our job?  We have masks, but they’re limited. They haven’t been fit-tested, so I don’t know how effective they are. Should people be tested before they work with patients? Should we have a special team?”

Those are just a few of the questions that weigh on Cambra. And it’s not just a lack of clarity from her employer. Cambra has studied guidelines from the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, the American Thoracic Society and others, but has doubts and fear about the seemingly constantly changing advice and nature of COVID-19. Her 34 years of experience provide little consolation against this foe.

Cambra says she wants everyone to be on the same page, to be working from the same plan. For now, though, she and other health care providers remain in uncharted territory.

“My concern is not just for myself but for the patients I’m taking care of. And the ones after that. And for my family,” Cambra says. “The virus doesn’t show up right away. If I’m exposed, then I’m exposing someone until I have symptoms. And what if I don’t have symptoms?”

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