Unions urge U of Illinois health system to boost protections after 2nd COVID-19 employee death

Two unions said they seek immediate safety measures for workers at Chicago-based University of Illinois Hospital and Clinics following the deaths of two of their members.

An operating room technician, represented by SEIU Local 73, died of COVID-19 complications this week, and a registered nurse, represented by Illinois Nurses Association, died last week, according to the unions. The unions said there is a growth of infection outside the COVID-19 floors at the hospital, and many employees only receive surgical masks and gloves as protection.

"Public employees are on the front lines working together to defeat this historic and deadly pandemic. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. Essential workers are risking their lives. Proper [personal protective equipment] will save lives. We make these demands so further deaths of [University of Illinois at Chicago] workers will be avoided," SEIU Local 73 President Dian Palmer said in a news release.

In a statement provided to Becker's Hospital Review, University of Illinois Hospitals and Clinics CEO Michael Zenn said the health system is "deeply and profoundly saddened" by the employee deaths and follows the most recent scientific guidelines from local and national public health officials.

"All care providers at UI Health haven been provided guidance to use personal protective equipment as recommended by the CDC and in some cases we have implemented recommendations that go beyond the CDC guidelines: in March we were one of the first hospitals in Chicago to implement universal masking of all patients and staff and we have also made non-fit tested N95 and KN95 masks available to staff," his statement reads. "Additionally, we implemented testing of all patients on admission and preoperatively on April 16. This greatly enhances our ability to identify and safely isolate patients with COVID-19."

Mr. Zenn said the organization will continue to monitor guidelines and its supplies to ensure preparedness during and after the pandemic.


More articles on human resources:
Workers at 40 Illinois nursing homes set to strike May 8
Ohio State nurses file OSHA complaint over PPE
Union files OSHA complaint against New Jersey hospital, nursing home over protective equipment

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