MADISON — Wisconsin health care workers on the front lines of treating patients with the coronavirus called on state lawmakers Wednesday to get them more protective equipment, expand health care coverage and provide fully-paid sick leave and hazard pay.
"They're calling us heroes," said Joseph "Chip" Stankovsky, a hospital cafeteria worker in Milwaukee. "Well, I say forget the hero. Show me the zeroes."
Stankovsky and other health care workers in Wisconsin spoke at a virtual press conference on Wednesday, asking state lawmakers for a "health care heroes" bill.
The FOX6 investigators have done several stories over the past few weeks about health care workers' concerns that limited access to paid leave will hurt families financially and encourage employees to go to work sick.
"I don't have paid sick time off," said Lisa Gordon, who works at a nursing home in Monroe. "If I catch the virus, not only will I be sick, but I will be out of work and wages."
"We're frustrated that every day we work through fatigue, stress, and hazards because we care about our patients, but we don't see that same commitment from our elected leaders and our employers to support that vital work," labor and delivery nurse Ryann Streicher said.
"I'm very close to my grandkids," said Kathy Hintz, a hospital housekeeper in Appleton. "But now I can't see them or help care for them because I'm afraid I'm passing something to them."
Hintz paused to collect herself.
"Sorry," she said, as her voice broke. "When I accepted this job as a housekeeper, I didn't ever think that might mean I'd be signing my death certificate. No one should have to feel like that going into work."
"Kathy, you've got me in tears," said State Rep. Robyn Vining (D-Wauwatosa), who was on the call.
Vining has circulated a memo calling legislation providing health care workers with PPE, fully-paid sick leave, hazard pay, and full healthcare coverage.
Vining says she does not know whether the money for the equipment, paid leave, hazard pay, and healthcare coverage would come from taxpayers or from private health systems.
"I'm not going to commit to any mandates right now," Vining said. "I think we need to look at the whole thing."
Vining says she believes part of the solution will come from the federal government aid on its way to Wisconsin. State lawmakers could not agree on provisions like funding health care paid sick leave in time for the COVID-19 bill that passed Tuesday and became law Wednesday.
"We're trying to see what our options are," Vining said.
Gov. Tony Evers on Wednesday signed a COVID-19 response bill passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature that does not include any of those provisions. Evers and other Democrats have also called on the Legislature to do more to help those struggling during the pandemic.
A letter signed by 37 Democratic members of the Legislature that was sent to Republican leaders on Monday called for the increased protections for nurses, paramedics, housekeeping staff, cafeteria workers and others who are in close contact with coronavirus patients.
State and local health care leaders have been working to procure more personal protective equipment like masks, gloves and face shields in the midst of a national shortage. The Wisconsin Hospital Association reported that as of Wednesday, a third or more of hospitals had less than a week’s supply of face shields, goggles, N95 masks, gowns and paper masks.
As of Wednesday, 182 people had died from COVID-19 in Wisconsin and there were more than 3,700 confirmed cases, according to the state Department of Health Services.
Republican legislative leaders did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the demands of the health care workers.