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Lawrence + Memorial health care workers rally for PPE

New London — More than 20 health care workers demonstrated outside Lawrence + Memorial Hospital on Saturday afternoon for more N95 respirators, more screening of workers before they enter the building and limiting the number of staff members who come into contact with patients.

L+M spokesperson Fiona Phelan said after the rally that the hospital is "aware of these concerns and have addressed them directly with the very limited staff who have these concerns."

Members of the AFT Connecticut Local 5123 union held signs with numbers on them to represent the people in various roles they know of who tested positive since Sept. 11: 11 registered nurses, nine in food and nutrition, eight in patient access, eight patient care assistants, four health unit coordinators, four in environmental services, three in sterile processing, two in the staffing office, two in the operating room and one in material management.

"These are just employees that we know about," Local 5123 President Connie Fields said. "There are more that are non-union that we don't know about, so we think L + M needs to do a better job contact tracing."

Fields said she doesn't think it's a lot to ask to get N95 masks for any workers who come into contact with a COVID patient. As an administrative assistant, she doesn't have any patient contact whatsoever, but others at the rally do.

Xavier Robinson and Craig Dysart work in patient transport. Robinson said since March, they haven't moved any COVID-positive patients, that this is something nurses and technicians have been doing.

But a few weeks ago, he said, talks began about having them transport COVID patients out of the emergency room. Robinson said after originally being told they wouldn't get N95 masks, they were told Friday they would be fitted for the respirators, which he called a "big win for us."

Even with masks, Dysart said he's "totally against it, period, because I don't believe in bringing more people to the party with a COVID-positive patient."

Kiki Parker-Lloyd, who works in medical records, said people in her office previously had access to more masks but recently started getting only one mask a week, to be kept in a brown paper bag between use.

Doreen Rathbun, who also works in medical records, said the rationale was that they're clerical and don't provide direct patient care, but "we wear these all day every day; it'd be nice to have a clean one."

The demonstration also included some L+M nurses.

Dale Cunningham, president of AFT Local 5049, the registered nurses' union, said she would like employees to be screened more thoroughly before they come to work. She said hospital management expects workers to monitor themselves.

She added that the union is having to fight for workers' compensation, and that employees have to walk a fine line about calling in sick. Andrea Lamperelli, a registered nurse in the intensive care unit, said management is giving "warnings" if someone is using too much sick time.

She said the policies and procedures the hospital is putting out change every day, "so there is mass confusion." Her mother, Pat Lamperelli, stood next to her in support and said, "I worry 24/7 for her safety."

Andrea Lamperelli held up a sign that said "You call us heroes so why treat us like zeros?" while her mother had one reading, "If they won't keep us safe who will work for you?"

Fiona Phelan, hospital spokesperson, said in an email, "We continue to abide by the most stringent infection prevention protocols. All staff have the appropriate PPE and in most cases it's better protection than what is recommended by the Yale New Haven Health System, Ledge Light Health District and others who have expertise about PPE practices and standards. We remain committed to supporting all our healthcare heroes."

e.moser@theday.com

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