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One Year Into COVID-19, Council 2 Healthcare Workers Show Resilience and Unity

One Year Into COVID-19, Council 2 Healthcare Workers Show Resilience and Unity

by Council 2 Staff on May 21, 2021
Mason County – Only a small number of Council 2 members work in hospitals and the healthcare field – but for those workers, the last year has been a challenge unlike any before.

While everyone has had to make sacrifices and adjust to new working conditions and safety precautions, healthcare workers at the Mason Health hospital have dealt with all of the above while at the same time serving on the frontlines against the virus that has turned life upside down across the nation.

Like workplaces around the country, as the virus first took hold, the hospital adopted safety precautions – familiar and unfamiliar. Though many healthcare workers are already used to wearing protective gear, the additional precautions were a new and challenging intrusion – defined by uncertainty in the pandemic’s early days.

“Everybody was worried of the unknown,” said Mary Robillard, an environmental services technician tasked with disinfecting spaces throughout Mason Health.

As scientists have learned more about the virus, Mason Health’s safety precautions have become refined. Break times are adjusted so breakroom gatherings meet social distancing guidance, robust testing is available, extra ventilation was added, hospital visitors are limited, and all staff wear masks and other personal protective equipment.

Malla Hayek, Vice President of Local 1504 and a dietary aide who helps prepare food and serve it to patients, called the safety protocols a “culture shock” that are important for protecting everyone’s health and safety, but not without their own relatable challenges.

Hayek, who herself lives with an immunocompromised person, is grateful for the caution and widespread, consistent adoption of safety measures that keep individuals and community safe, while acknowledging the shared sacrifice can be difficult.

“When you’re around food, trying to wear a pair of goggles and a face shield while you’re cooking  – it’s difficult!” said Hayek. “Having to wear a mask constantly, when some of us, like me, I kind of get a little claustrophobic,” adding that “trying to find a mask that works – and that I can work in – has been interesting.”

One of the pandemic’s most troublesome realities has been a loss of community, as gatherings are restricted and meeting places closed. That’s true too at Mason Health, where hospital visitors and members of the community, often elderly, would frequent the dining hall for a good, affordable meal. Hayek says many consider Mason Health’s salad bar the best in town.

“That was kinda the saddest part for me, losing those people and that interaction with the day-to-day ‘Joe Blow’s,’” said Hayek. “The community aspect being lost was kind of sad. I really look forward to the day where that comes back. I hope it does.”

As the pandemic has worn on, staff have continued helping patients and saving lives. Members point to the strong collaboration between administration, management, and Council 2 – coming together during a crisis to put workers first and prioritize staff support.

The administration has been greatly appreciative of its staff, serving as helpful partners and facilitators – keeping workers up to date with the latest information from the CDC, visiting Zoom staff meetings, and being regularly available for questions and support.

While many hospitals nationwide were thrown into chaos as the pandemic set in, Mason Health staff say their hospital was well prepared and very different from horror stories seen on the news and online. The hospital also ensured that workers never ran out or had to reuse disposable PPE, especially critical with supply shortages nationwide.

“I have been very pleased with the way Mason Health has handled the whole last year,” said Robillard. “They’ve just been really working with us well.”

She added, “They really cared about their employees, as a facility, to do what they had to do to make sure that people are being safe.”

Both Robillard and Hayek speak highly of Council 2, calling their representative Aaron Cole “exceptional.” Even though Mason Health’s current COVID restrictions mean Cole isn’t allowed inside the hospital, he has been available and accessible – frequently checking in, visiting outside when needed, and even dropping off masks featuring the Council 2 logo.

Council 2 has kept up quarterly meetings, and made sure workers are getting their rightful overtime, vacation time, wages, and more. Healthcare workers have felt empowered given strong support from their Union and because they have been treated by administration and management with the same respect given to doctors and nurses.

Most important, workers say, has been the unity shown between staff – as compassion and understanding has outweighed fear and despair. “Even with COVID, keeping a united front is so important right now – supporting each other. I think that’s one thing with our Local that we do. In our Union, most of us, we’re pretty tight,” said Hayek.

Facing continued uncertainty, Robillard says, “when everyone supports each other, it kind of eases that. You realize, you’re not the only one with that fear – everyone did come together...We’ve all been a great team.”

As the vaccine has become available to healthcare workers, many have accepted and received their second dose, a beacon of hope and a sign brighter days are ahead.

No doubt, the last year of the pandemic has been challenging – for workers, community members, friends, and families. Council 2’s healthcare workers have dealt with heightened versions of these same challenges every day – restrictive but necessary safety precautions, uncertainty, loss of community. Yet, they continue on and persevere – an inspiration for all.

“Even when you’re social distancing, you can still be a family, still be friends, still keep that unity,” said Hayek. “I think we need that much for our Local, our nation, our families – keeping close is so important. And I think we’re doing that. I truly do.”