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More Protective Gear Needed for Washington State Home Care Workers

Desirae Hernandez wears a homemade mask because of the lack of personal protective equipment for at-home caregivers. (Desirae Hernandez)
Desirae Hernandez wears a homemade mask because of the lack of personal protective equipment for at-home caregivers. (Desirae Hernandez)
April 9, 2020

SEATTLE -- At-home caregivers are looking after the people most vulnerable to COVID-19 and need more protective gear to do their jobs, according to Sterling Harders, president of the caregivers' union SEIU 775.

Harders says that this week Washington state agreed to put in-home caregivers -- who are deemed essential workers --- on the priority list for personal protective equipment (PPE).

But the caregivers can only receive PPE if they're caring for someone who is showing signs or has tested positive for coronavirus.

Harders says it's a great first step but it's not enough.

"Caregivers are leaving their homes every day," she points out. "They're taking care of their clients, they're taking them shopping, they're taking them to doctors' appointments, and it is not fair to expect caregivers to do that work and not give them the equipment that they need to do it safely."

Harders notes that tasks such as helping someone get out of bed or eat can't be done from six feet away. She adds that if caregivers can keep people out of hospitals, it makes everyone safer.

Desirae Hernandez cares for three clients at different homes and says she's purchased 60 homemade masks to give to other caregivers. On a regular basis, Hernandez says she can't afford to get sick because too many people depend on her.

"As far as coronavirus goes, I can't focus on my health -- other than taking every precaution I need -- because those people still need my care," she states.

Harders says caregivers don't have the proper equipment and are scared, but they still are doing their jobs.

"I want to make sure that when the story gets told, and health care workers are talked about as the heroes of this story, that caregivers are included in that," she stresses.

Disclosure: SEIU 775 contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Health Issues, Livable Wages/Working Families. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA