Natalie Gordon knew what she was getting into when she became a nurse six years ago.
She knew about the long hours, emotionally exhausting days and physical demands that would sometimes leave her body sore and bruised.
She knew it would require lots of sacrifices but she answered the calling anyway. Now that we’re in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Natalie and other healthcare workers are experiencing demands on their mental, physical and emotional health in ways they never imagined.
The failure of health officials to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to employees in LA County and other regions where our members work and live has meant those on the frontlines are risking their health and safety like never before.
Still, they keep showing up, doing whatever it takes to care for their patients.
“This is what we do. We stand by people who need us because if not us, then who will do it?,” Natalie said recently after finishing an overnight shift at LAC+USC Medical Center. “That said….you can’t catch a gunshot wound from treating one and with this situation, people are coming in very sick and very contagious and we have a very high risk of getting this disease.”
To help reduce the risk of bringing the virus to their families, nurses and other frontline workers are taking various precautions, such as undressing and changing clothes before entering into their homes or sleeping in RVs outside.
Natalie has ordered a tent that she will put up in her backyard and live in for the duration of the pandemic. The tent still hasn’t arrived due to shipping delays, so in the meantime, she’s either spending some days at a hotel or has sequestered herself in a bedroom away from her husband and two kids, ages 8 and 5.
She says not being able to spend time with her family and have their support is by far the biggest sacrifice.
“It’s the worst. Everybody’s feeling isolated right now and missing that human touch and connection just generally and as a nurse my kids are my joy and the best part of my life,” she said. “This is a tough job to do and in the past I come home and I just lose myself in my kids as a way to cope with the day-to-day and not having that is definitely stressful. I miss them a lot and I know they miss me too.”
After SEIU 721 filed a Cal/OSHA complaint against LA County for inadequacies including failing to release N95 respirators to nurses, the Department of Health Services expanded its PPE policy, mandating that all healthcare workers in the county receive an N95 upon request.
Natalie, who was involved in the 2018 contract campaign that nearly resulted in LA County nurses going on strike, said times like these make her especially proud to be union strong.
“Taking a role in some union activities helped me to feel like I was of service, not just to the community but to my co-workers and to my unit. It’s amazing what can be done when we can organize and come together to bring about a greater good for our workforce,” she said.
SEIU 721 is continuing to advocate for our members and the communities they serve. Our union is fighting to ensure newly-won policy changes regarding PPE and other issues are enforced and that officials are held accountable for keeping our members safe.
“Something else nurses would like to see is the ability to use our own PPE when it meets the standards and guidelines, and that would free up more N95s and face shields,” she said “Some of us have our own respirators that are like the ones being used overseas and they provide more protection than the N95. This virus is a beast and healthcare workers need all the protection we can get.”
She also has a message for members of the community: she doesn’t want to see you as a patient, so keep staying home and wash your hands….A LOT.
“I just hope everybody that’s involved in this huge mess of a pandemic can stay safe,” she said. “I just really encourage everybody to stay at home, keep social distancing, keeping wearing a surgical mask when you’re in public. The longer we can do this, the better outcome we’re going to have.”
Stay tuned for more updates at www.seiu721.org and look for more stories from your SEIU 721 brothers and sisters who are featured in Faces From the Frontlines. #unionstrong #protectallworkers #togetherwewin