More than a thousand members of District Council 37's Local 768 working in the public-hospital system are unnecessarily at risk of becoming infected with coronavirus by not being allowed to work from home, the union argued.
Its lawyers March 30 wrote to NYC Health + Hospitals CEO Mitchell Katz asking why 1,000 Social Workers and 150 Medical Records Specialists were still required to perform their duties at the city hospitals.
'A Dangerous Practice'
“There is no good reason that the union is aware of that makes Social Workers ineligible or ill-suited for telecommuting,” the letter stated. “But there is ample reason to believe that requiring Social Workers to physically perform their work at hospital and clinic facilities where contagious health-care workers, contagious patients, contagious patient family members, and contaminated surfaces are present is a dangerous practice.”
Local 768 President Fitz Reid said in a phone interview that Social Workers interacted with often-vulnerable patients one-on-one, putting them at high risk. Medical Records Specialists worked only with data, he added.
'A Matter of Trust'
“They expect us to do the right thing for them,” he said. If not, “when this is over, they won’t trust management.”
Social Workers at Jacobi and Queens Hospitals have tested positive for coronavirus, according to Mr. Reid.
The letter explained that “nearly all” of the duties performed by Social Workers could be handled by computer and phone, citing three Social Workers at the World Trade Center Environmental Health Center clinic at Bellevue Hospital who were allowed to work remotely.
“The small number of Social Workers currently working from home…are using their own personal computers to access Health + Hospitals’ electronic medical records system (Epic) to access patient information and enter notes, and they are using their hospital-issued iPhones to speak with patients,” the union stated.
An H+H spokesman said decisions on work locations were made by top officials based "on whether their critical work could be done remotely."
Mr. Reid pointed out that if Social Workers and Medical Records Specialists no longer worked at the hospitals, it would leave the limited supplies of personal protective equipment such as gloves and face shields for front-line staff, including the Respiratory Therapists and Physician Assistants his union represents.
“But if they must go to the hospitals, then they ought to be protected,” he said.
We depend on the support of readers like you to help keep our publication strong and independent. Join us.