WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — As coronavirus cases spike across the country, essential workers are facing added risks, but many essential workers nationwide, including healthcare workers on the frontlines, are not getting extra pay.
According to May data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 60,000 health care workers have been infected, and close to 300 have died from COVID-19.
United Regional has fewer than 20 employees who have tested positive for COVID-19, according to a statement from United Regional Health Care System. However, officials said it appears that many of those employees were exposed while in the community rather than at work.
At this time, United Regional is not providing hazard pay, which officials said is consistent with other Texas hospitals they contacted.
Patrick Johnston, marketing and communications coordinator at URHCS said United Regional does recognize the potential for more work-related exposure given the recent increased number of COVID patients and reviewed its protocol.
“We reevaluated our policies late last week and determined that, if a case can be reasonably attributed to work, we will treat that case as an on-the-job injury and apply benefits accordingly,” Johnston said. “If, on the other hand, there does not appear to be a work connection (e.g., a family member is COVID positive), employees will be able to utilize their paid time off (PTO).”
Two nurses who work at United Regional contacted our newsroom anonymously questioning why nurses weren’t receiving hazard pay.
“We are scared to bring it home to our families and friends,” one nurse said. “We are diligent in our safety practices to prevent bringing COVID home, but it is never guaranteed.”
They go on to say, “I just want to find out what the deciding factor is on hazard pay. Who is saying no and why?”
According to the Department of Labor, hazard pay means additional pay for performing hazardous duty or work involving physical hardship. Many counties in North Texas have approved a pay increase for essential workers during the coronavirus crisis. For example, Dallas County approved a temporary pay increase for all non-exempt employees who are first responders and health care workers back in April.
“I just think we deserve hazard pay,” the nurse said. “I asked some fellow nurses and they are getting bonuses and extra pay an hour in the Dallas area.”
Another nurse said she was told the hospital was not getting hazard pay or sick leave at all if they contracted the coronavirus.
Johnston said United Regional will continue to monitor pay practices of similar health care organizations to determine if changes may be needed.
“We will also continue to consider factors such as availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) – which, fortunately, continues to be readily available for our staff.”
On Capitol Hill, House Democrats included $200 billion for hazard pay for essential workers in its version of the HEROES Act. It passed the U.S. House in May but isn’t likely to pass the Senate.