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Dorn VA workers worry about lack of PPE, officials say they are following guidelines

Updated: May. 9, 2020 at 5:08 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Some workers with the Dorn VA Medical Center are worried they aren’t being given enough personal protective equipment.

About 30 people picketed outside the Wm. Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center on Saturday trying to draw attention to what they say is an inadequate supply of PPE.

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“Sure we need to take care of veterans, but if we don’t take care of the people who take care of veterans who is going to be there for them?” said Angela Snowden a case manager at the Dorn VA and a member of the local chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees or AFGE.

AFGE has participated in similar events across the country and members said this is a problem that goes beyond South Carolina.

Columbia members said many VA workers are only given one surgical mask a week, similar to what most people are wearing according to the latest CDC guidelines. Members added workers who see patients more frequently are only given one a day, which they argue is still not enough to ensure their safety.

"I call it inadequate. This is not a P95 this is just a cheap little mask that doesn’t really keep you from the most important infection,” VA recreational therapist and AFGE Local 1915 member Johnny Allen said.

A spokesperson for the Columbia VA facility wrote in a statement to WIS they are following all CDC guidelines and, “This includes providing appropriate PPE to employees and pre-screening everyone who enters the Columbia VA facility.”

The statement also addressed the picketers’ calls for more frequent distribution of PPE to all hospital workers. "The CDC has made clear: not every healthcare worker will need the same quantity and type of PPE. Therefore, we are providing daily or weekly PPE to staff based on the number and types of patients they are seeing,” the Dorn VA spokesperson added, “We know what we are doing is working because we are seeing a low infection rate among our employees…And, if the facility were to fall below stock levels, supplies are cross-leveled by another VA facility or region.”

However, the current amount of PPE worries some hospital employees for the health and safety of themselves and their families.

Stephanie Todd works in the VA healthcare system and said she is already taking every precaution.

“When I get home, I make sure I strip, drive home shower, so I don’t bring anything into my house. And I haven’t seen my Mom, I haven’t seen anybody else in my family except for the people who live in my home,” Todd said.

Todd also believes now is the time for action because she believes we are all in this together.

“Just let’s be human. Love each other and let’s take care of each other,” she said.

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