My Mom Got COVID-19 and I Can’t Even Socially Distance From Her

This interview was conducted with Jean Francois, a medical student in New York, whose mother is a Patient Care Associate at a New York hospital. Her mother contracted COVID-19 due to her exposure at her job and because of the inadequate PPE she was provided.
  • Left Voice | 
  • May 20, 2020

What does your mom do for work? Where and how long has she been working?

My mother is a Patient Care Associate (PCA). She has been working for Northwell Health for 15 years. She works directly with patients, taking them to EKG’s, blood work, vitals etc., and also works with nurses. Given her work, she is highly exposed to the coronavirus. 

What are the conditions like at the hospital where she works? Did she and her coworkers feel safe before and during the pandemic?

She did not feel safe. She had underlying conditions such as asthma, diabetes and a nodule on her lungs. Her doctor diagnosed her as immunocompromised. At the hospital, there wasn’t enough  to go around to assure the safety of all the staff. For example, there was a shortage of face shields and the nurse manager would determine who was eligible to receive a face shield. In the beginning (early-March), they mostly went to the nurses, leaving workers  like my mother exposed. Sounds like some kind of neglect for the lower workers  Later, however, they were made available to all staff dealing with Covid-positive patients.

Was she still required to work even though she was immunocompromised and at higher risk? 

Although she informed the hospital of her underlying conditions, she was still required to work. I don’t think her health, or that of her family’s, was taken into consideration when they decided if she should continue to work. It’s as if they were willing to sacrifice their workers. 

How much time did the hospital give her to recover before she had to work?

The hospital told her that if seven days after testing positive for Covid-19, she no longer had a fever for more than 3 consecutive days, she will be cleared to go back to work. My mother was sick for more than seven days, but they did not pay her for the extra time she needed to recover and feel fit to work again. 

How do you manage at home with her being sick? Can you socially distance?

After she contracted the virus, it spread through the whole household. That is the problem with minority hospital workers. Our homes aren’t big and if one of us catches the virus, it will be easily spread throughout the household. Quarantining and social distancing from your family is not possible, especially when there is one bathroom, shared bedrooms etc. Inevitably, the whole house was battling COVID-19. But thankfully, no one was in critical condition.

Are a lot of her coworkers contracting the virus?

A few of her coworkers have contracted the virus. One of her coworkers, also a PCA, died of Covid-19 this past week. 

What is her union doing about this?

Her union has not reached out to her regarding her work conditions nor has she reached out to them. 

Did the workers themselves do anything to fight for Personal Protective Equipment?

My mother has exchanged a few words with the nurse managers about receiving proper PPE but no one had answers for her.  I cannot speak for the other workers. 

With everything you and your mom have gone through, what are your thoughts on the hospital administration and union leadership in light of this? 

I feel as if the hospital administration did not act quickly in the beginning of the pandemic. Which led to hospital staff scrambling around for PPE and the hospital prioritizing the lives of some staff over others. I understand there was a shortage of PPE but that should not allow for lives to be put at risk. She has underlying conditions and despite all her requests, they did not attempt to protect her from the virus. It’s almost as if she was forced to put her life on the line. My mother was not contacted by her Union during this pandemic and I feel this is the time they are needed the most to protect their members from a health crisis.

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