On Tuesday, a group of nurses joined at the nation’s Capitol to make a powerful and devastating statement. They placed 164 pairs of white shoes were placed on the lawn to represent the number of nurses who have died while working amid and against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The display served as a vigil for the colleagues lost in the fight, but it wasn’t just a place to grieve—it was a call to action.
Jean Ross, the president of the nationwide union of registered nurses, National Nurses United (NNU), told CBSN on Tuesday that many people have referred to nurses as “heroes” during the pandemic. Then, she said, “Your heroes should not be dispensable. We’re not expendable.”
“We are getting sick. We are dying along with other healthcare workers. There are things our government can do. This is critical,” she continued.
According to a press release from NNU, the union is demanding that Senate pass the HEROES Act, which would provide much needed personal protective equipment (PPE) and regulatory protections for frontline health care workers.
“How many of these frontline nurses would be here today if they had had the equipment they needed to do their jobs safely?” Zenei Cortez, RN, president of National Nurses United said per the release. “The House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act on May 15th but Senator Mitch McConnell has sat on his hands as the pandemic has surged and nurses and other health care workers have gone without the proper PPE, causing many to get sick and die.”
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The $3 trillion bill would also provide economic assistance to working families and state, local and tribal governments across the country, while ensuring the increased production and delivery of PPE and other medical supplies. Following the news of the Trump administration’s interference with coronavirus reporting data, the HEROES Act would also establish new systems for reporting, transparency, and coordination of supply chain logistics.
The bill would also establish the role of a Medical Supplies Response Coordinator, who would coordinate the federal government’s efforts related to the supply and distribution of critical medical supplies and equipment. Along with this role would be legislation to prevent hospital managers and other employers from locking up PPE or providing incorrect protective equipment, and it would ensure that employees receive the education and training needed to use PPE safely.
In the release, the NNU says these provisions are “absolutely critical” and need to be included in any coronavirus legislation that Congress passes.
Tuesday’s vigil at the Capitol was one of many that the NNU have held this year. In April, the NNU held protests at 15 hospitals nationwide over the lack of PPE.
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The group also protested in front of the White House, where nurses held photos and read the names of fellow registered nurses and other health care workers who have become infected or died from coronavirus while at work.
“The death of one nurse who became ill because they were forced to work without adequate PPE is heartbreaking, but the death of so many nurses due to the failure of the federal government to act swiftly is unconscionable,” said Cortez in the press release. “As we mourn the loss of our fellow nurses, we recommit ourselves to fighting to get the equipment we need to those who are working at the bedside to care for those suffering from this deadly virus.”
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