Op-ed: Recognize the nurses working throughout the COVID pandemic
A nurse administers COVID-19 tests at the San Jose Police Activities League Stadium in May 2020. File photo.

    Last month, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors announced to the public that they would distribute a “hero pay” bonus for all 22,000 Santa Clara County employees for $2,500.

    After the bonus was criticized, County Executive Jeff Smith wrote an op-ed statement which said, “Maybe the critics don’t realize that a $2,500 one-time payment for a two-year response is about equal to the cost of a cup of coffee for every workday.” The original public statement made by the county was misleading in that it gave the impression that all county employees would receive $2,500, when in fact only those hired as full-time would receive that amount.

    Unfortunately, the county has made it clear that they are unwilling to recognize the work of the nurses who throughout the COVID-19 pandemic worked beyond their part-time shifts to full-time status to supplement chronic short staffing. As a result, a petition to the Board of Supervisors was started which has raised over 6,200 signatures and letters so far.

    Nurses who played an integral role during the pandemic to sustain the health care system by rising to the challenge are feeling underappreciated. Like many other frontline disaster service workers, nurses did not get to shelter in place. Instead, they were faced daily with the uncertainty of a deadly virus, while they remained at the bedside taking care of patients, testing staff and community members, and are now administering mass vaccinations.

    On top of their normal duties, the efforts of our nurses have been paramount during this pandemic in caring for COVID patients. Some nurses brought COVID home to their families, while others were forced to stay in hotels away from their families to keep them safe. As frontline essential workers, our members sacrificed their well-being for the greater good of their patients and community while not having sufficient personal protective equipment and not knowing how their health or the health of their families may be impacted.

    “I have worked the frontlines since day one,” said an RN at Valley Medical Center. “I’ve been with the county for over 17 years, and I almost lost my life because of COVID. Although I was hired into four days a week work schedule, I have been working six days a week, which is 1.5 more than full-time to accommodate my department. Now this ‘hero pay’ is based on the status you were hired into, please help me understand.”

    Despite our objections, the county has failed to meet in good faith, to address the concerns of our nurses and give them equal pay for equal work. Although we are grateful that our nurses will receive a bonus, the Registered Nurses Professional Association (RNPA) Board of Directors believes the hard work of our more than 3,500 members should be recognized and not minimized by a status they were hired into. They should be recognized for the additional hours they worked to fill the gaps in staffing which was essential in sustaining the health of this community.

    “The county is minimizing our hard, heartfelt work,” said another RN at Valley Medical Center. “When the county asked for all-hands-on-deck, nurses answered the call. We were asked to defer our vacations so we could run the community vaccination and swabbing sites. If the county truly appreciated their frontline workers, all nurses who worked during the pandemic would be treated equally by receiving the full hero pay. The last 19 months have been enormous stress on all of us, especially the ones who reported in-person to work directly with patients.”

    We, the RNPA Board of Directors, urge the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to do the right thing by giving our nurses what they deserve. Considering the $2,500 has been compared to “a cup of coffee a day for every workday,” we ask that our nurses in the least be given a full cup.

    The RNPA Board of Directors represents more than 3,500 nurses in Santa Clara County.

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