By Robin Bravender
For the Pittsburgh Current
The Trump administration is failing to properly protect the health care workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic, Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Bob Casey told reporters Wednesday.
“These brave soldiers heading into battle — hour after hour, day after day, now week after week — without the protective equipment that they need is not only embarrassing, it is very, very dangerous and it’s not in any way consistent with our values,” Casey said.
“These frontline health care workers need a lot more help. The administration has a lot of explaining to do and should mobilize today to make sure they can get this done.”
Health care workers across the country have reported dangerous shortages of personal protective equipment as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread.
Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, said on the press call Wednesday that caregivers across the country are “working without sufficient personal protective equipment.” She called on the government to “immediately and for the duration of the crisis, procure, produce and provide ample personal protective equipment to health care workers.”
A state representative in Michigan described how shuttered local schools in his district had been asked to donate goggles from their science labs and classrooms to local health care providers.
A nurse from Wisconsin said health care workers reached out to local construction companies and painters to ask for equipment. An emergency department technician in Michigan said she and her co-workers were asked to reuse gowns and face shields and to disinfect them using wipes.
“We’ve got to make sure that right now, no matter what it takes, no matter how much it costs, we’ve got to get that protective equipment to every frontline health care worker who needs it and that means pushing the administration,” Casey said.
Beyond meeting health care workers’ short-term supply needs, the Pennsylvania senator said he plans to work on a long-term aid package.
“We should consider these soldiers to not just be warriors in a battle, but to be the equivalent of soldiers coming home from the battlefield,” he said. When we came together after World War II, we passed legislation called the GI bill. We should pass a similar piece of legislation to treat these frontline workers like soldiers and combatants that they are.”
Casey also slammed the Trump administration for rejecting pleas to reopen enrollment under the Affordable Care Act for uninsured Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is no excuse for the administration not having a 30-day open enrollment period,” Casey said.
“No one who has COVID-19 should pay a goddamn dime for the testing and the treatment that’s required, not a dime. The federal government should pick up every dime of that. And the best way to protect people is to make sure that they have health coverage.”
Casey, Henry and the health care workers spoke on a conference call hosted by Protect Our Care, an advocacy group that’s running ads against President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus in critical swing states: Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Asked whether Trump’s critics risk over-politicizing the health care crisis, Casey pointed to “systemic failures here that have put people’s lives at risk.”
He said, “The idea that we’re supposed to just be completely muted and not ctricitize policy because we’re in the middle of a crisis — give me a break. We need the policy to be as near to perfect as possible. Not pretty good. Not somewhat good. The best in the world. And we are far, far from that.”
Robin Bravender is the Washington Bureau Chief for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star where this story first appeared.