Recently, State Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, presented HR 8001 to the General Assembly, "A Resolution to commend local governments, healthcare workers, long-term care facility staff, and others who work tirelessly to combat COVID-19."
Rep. Sparks then made remarks thanking our tireless healthcare workers. While I could not agree more that our healthcare workers deserve our deepest gratitude that we may never be able to repay, I must also make the point that it is NOT enough to have words without action, or worse, with adverse action. As one healthcare worker stated, "You cannot thank me to my face and then make policies to hurt me behind closed doors."
I recently spoke with several healthcare workers to ask them what a true thank you would mean to them. These are the answers I heard and the progress we should make:
1. Many in healthcare do not make a living wage. We work in hospitals, doctors' offices and in long-term care facilities. Our careers range from CNAs, EMTs, to Phlebotomists, and we earn less than $15 per hour. Many are actually at the poverty level in our state. We are ask to risk our lives and take care of your loved ones while not affording us the financial resources to take care of our own. We can do better to pay them.
2. When science gives us answers, please listen and lessen our burden. To be in position of taking care of patients during a pandemic, you see how truly fragile life is. We are given criteria to keep ourselves and the community safer. A safer community means fewer people coming into the hospital with this virus. However, when leaders go against the science, their constituents will follow, and we see an increase in cases. If you want to thank us, listen to us, and respond accordingly. Wear the mask and help your fellow citizens. This is a lifesaving device it is not political. When the weather service notifies us there is a tornado coming, we listen and take cover. Our medical professionals have warned us about this virus and advised everyone to wear a mask, social distance, and wash our hands. To not listen is not only disrespectful for the work we do, but it says "I don't care about your life." We can do better to listen to them.
3. Insure our patients. When people are more afraid of the financial debt that might be left to their families than death, they often either do not go to the doctor, do not go to a hospital until it is too late, or they just simply die from something that could have been caught and corrected had they not feared the economic impact on their life. With many illnesses and stress will play a part in the patients recovery. The added burden of bills only hurts our patients. Insuring our patients also means that facilities and staff will be paid. We do not want to bankrupt anyone because they or their dependent needs medical care. When we asked for our state to accept the funds from the ACA, it was to help our fellow Tennesseans. Instead, it was turned down. Tennessee now leads in the number medical bankruptcies. We can do better to insure their patients.
4. We absolutely need more testing in our medical facilities. The Hadassah Medical Organization in Israel tests their employees for COVID-19 every five days and have been doing so since April. Here we are only testing if someone has been exposed, is living in the same home with someone that has tested positive, or if you are showing symptoms (even though many people are asymptomatic carriers). We need this regular testing for our healthcare staff. In a hospital, that means everyone from the environmental staff to the CEO. By not doing this, we are potentially putting each other at risk. We can do better to have regular testing for medical staff.
Rep. Sparks was elected to office in 2010. During his tenure, Tennessee has seen the closing of not one, but 10 of our hospitals. Currently, Tennessee has 15 additional hospitals on the brink of collapse. Tennessee leads with the most medical bankruptcies. Tennessee also leads with the largest increase of rate of uninsured residents in the United States. So, while Rep. Sparks commendation for healthcare workers is certainly commendable, his actions seem to be lacking. To quote Theodore Roosevelt, "Great thoughts speak only to the thoughtful mind, but great actions speak to all mankind." And right now, we most certainly need great action.
Brandon Thomas is a candidate for Tennessee State House District 49.