I am writing from my tiny cabin in northwestern Wisconsin. Despite county officials asking seasonal owners not to visit during the stay at home order, I am here. I only leave my 7.5-acre property to walk, ski or bike. Other than that, in the eight days here, I have left only to pick up a curbside order of groceries.
The main reason I have chosen to self-quarantine here is the working conditions at my girlfriend’s place of employment.
She is a social worker at a south suburban hospital in the Twin Cities area. You may not know it, but social workers are essential to the function of any hospital. They handle discharge placements, resources to patients and families, and countless other tasks that require a high level of expertise and professionalism. They are as important as nurses.
There are two main causes for alarm at her hospital. First, the use of PPE by her co-workers is extremely varied and ranges from perfect to lax to nonexistent.
I have learned that there is a strict protocol for both donning and doffing PPE. If it is not followed to the letter, it negates entirely the whole concept. There is training available at this hospital, but to date that is a voluntary training. So there are health professionals, working in a highly exposed environment, who don’t even know how to use their gear correctly. And hospital administration is not requiring them to.
The second cause for alarm (and again, my self-quarantine) is the shortages my girlfriend sees in actual PPE supplies. This includes masks, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes, to name a few. It sounds like this is only getting worse. These supplies are quite everyday in a hospital, and staff use them in non-COVID-19 situations all the time. So the lack of these supplies is exposing everyone close — to more than just coronavirus.
When she asked for scrubs, which she could report to work in, she was flat-out denied. The idea would have been to strip down at work at the end of the day, drop used scrubs and shoes into a bleach solution, so they could be safely carried home to be washed. This would in theory reduce the virus particles entering our home. Without work-issued scrubs, she has been reporting in workout clothes she doesn’t mind soaking in the bleach solution. It would be even better if she could shower at work, but so far no such facilities have been offered or made available to her.
I am unsure what her options are, but a self-requested furlough is one. This would obviously reduce her pay, which we can weather without a problem. If my business receives the SBA funding we applied for, she could work part time for me.
Typical of a social worker, the money is secondary to her. Her main concern is loyalty to her team and to the patients she serves. Social workers exist without the benefit of a union. They perform duties every bit as crucial as nurses, but without equitable pay or benefits. She continues to report for work despite the questionable safety environment, mainly because it is in her nature to do so.
With that type of loyalty, the least that the hospital system could do is make it safe for her to maintain that. She is starting to question her loyalty, which is a dangerous state for her employer. They need her and her team.
Until they make it safe, I will be self-quarantined in the woods. I have 50 employees that are counting on me to remain healthy and be an effective leader through this crisis. Self-quarantine is the right decision in this regard.
My hope is that hospital administrators show similar leadership when it comes to the safety of their loyal and essential staff. I think their customers, also known as patients, share that hope. After all, their lives depend on it.
Dale Vaillancourt is from Burnsville. He is co-founder and co-owner of Divine Swine Catering.