As if working the front lines in the battle against COVID-19 isn’t stressful enough, some employees at John Peter Smith Hospital (JPS) say their bosses are making their situations worse.
Three workers, who asked not to be identified by name or job description for fear of retaliation, told me in interviews they’ve been pressured by hospital officials to work while sick, work with inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE), and sometimes to take personal time when sick instead of sick leave.
In an email exchange, JPS spokesperson Diana Brodeur disputed the allegations.
“For COVID-related illness, JPS has followed guidance from the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] closely throughout the course of the pandemic,” she wrote. “The medical professionals who evaluate the health of our team members do so with the utmost care for the health of our employees, their families, and patients.”
Brodeur also disputed the assertion that employees have been required to take personal days off when sick.
“Employees do not have separate sick and personal days,” she said. “They earn days off based on hours worked, and those days can be used for personal time, sick time, or anything else.”
The employees who spoke to me believe they are being taken advantage of.
“We all agree what’s going on isn’t right,” one employee said. And if their bosses at JPS found out about communications with a reporter, the worker said, “I could lose my job.” The same employee said two co-workers “got COVID, and they were required to take personal days off” instead of sick days.
“Instead of working with us and trying to help us, it’s always,” ‘You’ll be fired,’ ” the employee continued. “They want to turn us against each other. Be sure to rat out your fellow workers. … We are on our own. Management is not here for us.”
The problems are not new.
“I started having fever, fatigue, and a headache in November,” another worker alleged.
Yet another employee said, “I’ve had a lot of coworkers come in not feeling well and scared they’ll be fired if they didn’t. I’m pretty sure if that was happening in my department, it was happening hospital-wide.”
JPS also was slow to ramp up acquiring PPE, a worker said.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, we had to wear the same mask for I don’t know how long,” the worker said. “I was wearing the same one month after month.
Brodeur responded that “PPE is available at all times, and we have a supply of all products. Masks and eye protection are available at screening stations, and the rest is available at PPE supply rooms.”
On Feb. 1, JPS rolled out a new policy on attendance and punctuality that assigns numerical scores to various infractions — from 0.5 for “early departure” to 4.5 for “no call, no show.” Full-time employees who rack up a total score of nine or higher during a year can be fired, according to the policy. An employee shared it with me recently.
“This is recent,” the employee said. “Again, not ‘thank you for putting yourself and your family at risk.’ ”
One of the workers said JPS executives are working “tucked away in their offices, not at the bedside being exposed to patients.”
And one worker who had COVID said, “JPS never called to see how I was doing.”
The employees aren’t sure what lies ahead or what recourse, if any, they may have.
“We’ve had several whose kids tested positive recently, and they’re still making then come to work,” one said. “It’s been like that since the beginning.”
And they feel helpless. “We feel like there’s nothing we can do,” another employee said, “and we fear retaliation.”
For the hospital’s latest COVID info, call 817-702-9500. Information is updated daily at 10 a.m.