WSH Union Demands Change After Coronavirus Cases Among Staff

Charles Woodman

This article originally appeared on the Lakewood-JBLM Patch

LAKEWOOD, WA — The union representing employees at Western State Hospital is demanding changes to slow the spread of the new coronavirus in order to better protect employees and patients after seven cases of the illness were diagnosed in hospital staff and patients.

Five staff members and two patients have tested positive for COVID-19 at the psychiatric hospital.

When the cases were confirmed, union spokesperson Justin Lee said "Staff continue to report to work because they care deeply about the patients, but they are also greatly concerned about management's failure to be proactive with public health guidance."

Now SEIU Healthcare 1199NW is asking the Department of Health, The Department of Health and Social Servies and the Department of Children, Youth and Families to come together and plan for new protections during the coronavirus pandemic. The union says the agencies waited three weeks to come to the table and have so far made "no tangible commitments" to safety improvements.

The union is demanding five specific changes that they say will drastically improve safety:

  • A separate hospital ward for patients with the coronavirus.
  • A voluntary coronavirus response team assigned exclusively to that ward.
  • Better training for employees to help recognize the symptoms and responses to coronavirus.
  • Immediate testing for all employees who worked with or around the patients and staff who contracted the virus.
  • A coronavirus expert on staff who can help develop and implement safety policies.

In a statement released Thursday, the union says they will continue to fight for the safety of employees and patients at Western State:

Today we reassert our demand: For DSHS, which oversees Western State Hospital, to sit across the table from us to discuss how we can prevent any more workers from contracting COVID-19. We are prepared to do what is needed to keep residents, clients and patients safe, but we need the state to be prepared to do what is needed for us and our coworkers as well.