Briefing on the Availability and Suitability of PPE for Frontline State Employees

Briefing on the Availability and Suitability of PPE for Frontline State Employees

 On June 9, the Maryland Senate Finance Committee and House Appropriations Committee held a briefing on how the state has been handling PPE during the Coronavirus pandemic.  Hogan Administration officials from the Division of Corrections, Department of Health, Department of Juvenile Services and Department of Human Services testified to the numbers of PPE that had been acquired since the beginning of the pandemic.  Their charts and numbers were made to impress, and the numbers themselves are impressive.  But AFSCME members also testified and painted a picture of day-to-day reality that belied the rosy presentations of the Administration.

AFSCME Council 3 President Patrick Moran opened the AFSCME testimony, saying “Unfortunately, you will find that the state often took too long to respond to the challenges that laid before them, that they often did not address the issues we raised nor took the solutions that we were proposing to address those situations.  To this day unfortunately there are departments and institutions that still have not addressed many of the basics that need to happen in order for the state to successfully take on this pandemic and ensure the safety of state employees and those that they serve.” 

Local 3167 President Denise Henderson (DJS) stated “At the beginning of the pandemic, we were informed that we would not be allowed to wear PPE unless the agency had evidence of a spread of COVID in our facilities. This made us feel anxious and scared, not being proactive but reactive affected the morale of the employees. Upon confirmation of a positive case, we were told that we could now wear PPE. Two to three weeks after the notification we still had areas within the agency that had not received proper cleaning supplies or PPE. As an essential employee you had to decide ‘do I go to work and risk infection and support my co-workers? or do I stay home and keep my family and myself safe?’” 

Local 266 member Donna Kilmore (MDH) added “If MDH truly wants Its facilities to be a model for coping with COVID, they need to provide training, PPE, protocols, and planning to support all staff and patients. Staff need to have adequate pay and protection for risking their physical and mental health every day.”

Local 112 Treasurer and Council 3 Executive Board member Cherrish Vick (DHS) stated “Staff are unsure about the reopening procedures.  We want to do our part to help folks who need our help.  But again, without being supplied the necessary equipment and training, many of us our unable to do the work, work which could be done remotely.” 

Local 1678 member Oluwadamilol Olaniyan (DPSCS) stressed how staffing shortages are making a bad situation worse: “The lack of appropriate levels of staffing during “good times” is greatly exacerbated during this pandemic crisis.  While we know there is a personal responsibility to call out if we are not feeling well, we also face the guilt of leaving our brothers and sisters shorthanded.”

Local 1072 Board member Celina Sargusingh (UM-College Park) pointed out the negative impact of management’s response to Maryland’s public university and college employees: “Staff and Students aren’t just dollars and cents. The lack of cooperation and their sluggish, non-urgent response… has put our members at risk.” 

Finally, Local 3641 Vice President Sean Santmyire (DOL) summed up AFSCME members frustrations, “(T)he shortage of trained staff who had the proper equipment and training has put many Maryland families without checks and without communication from the DOL. Because we have so many people not get through to a UI professional via email or phone, many cannot get answers of why they have not received their payments. Just in the western region alone men and woman who were released from their jobs at the Luke Mill, and are in various retraining programs, have gone without payments for several weeks now. Our governor promised these hardworking people that his administration would be there for them. In recent weeks and now going on months this promise has fallen by the wayside for these folks and so many others.” 

To see your brothers and sisters testimony at this hearing, begin the video at 1:19:15.  To see media coverage of the hearing, and learn which Delegate said “I’m very upset.  I’m fumigating, as a matter of fact.” click here and here.