March 9 — In Washington state, there were 15 deaths from COVID-19 (coronavirus) and 79 diagnosed cases of the disease as of March 6. With the epidemic growing there, the state’s Department of Health reported 22 deaths and 162 cases as of today.
Most fatalities have occurred at the Life Care Center, a nursing home located outside Seattle in Kirkland. There, 19 patients died of the virus between Feb. 19 and March 9. It is likely there will be more tragic deaths there. Today, positive test results for 31 of 35 patients were reported. Seven of the facility’s 55 current residents already have COVID-19 symptoms. Results are unknown for the remaining 20 patients.
Timothy Killian, Life Care spokesperson, says the nursing home received only 45 test kits on March 5 for its then 120 residents. That was 15 days after the first COVID-19 death there! This crisis is the fault of the Trump government, which should have produced enough test kits for Life Care — as well as for all people and medical facilities that need them nationally.
Patients’ visitors are frustrated at the lack of communication from Life Care officials about their relatives’ health. Killian says no other facilities are willing to take ill Life Care residents.
Impact of virus on workers
Of the 180 workers employed at Life Care, 65 have been self-quarantined at home since Feb.19 because they have symptoms of COVID-19. Killian did not know how many workers have been tested or hospitalized, nor has he confirmed if those confined at home are being paid.
Like other cities, Seattle has huge medical complexes and foundations for research and training. But health care for the working class is rapidly declining, and the system is badly equipped to deal with COVID-19. Workers need health care, not neglect — or the nothing that is Trumpcare.
The health care industry’s goal is to maximize profits, not to meet the needs of the multinational working class. This situation is even worse when a challenge arises, such as the COVID-19 epidemic, as millions of people have no health insurance or providers.
Life Care puts profits before people’s lives
Life Care Centers of America, Inc. is “a closely held” for-profit corporation with 200 facilities in 28 states and a total of 40,000 workers. The company has 14 facilities in Washington state.
Between the great resources at Life Care centers and the government, there can certainly be more aggressive treatment and isolation measures to save patients’ lives. Company officials could bring in additional health care workers to relieve the facility’s employees who are putting their lives on the line.
Life Care is only the latest case showing how this for-profit industry harms workers and patients by having an insufficient workforce — even in an emergency. But workers are fighting back.
From Jan. 28-30, 7,800 members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW struck seven Swedish-Providence hospitals in the Seattle area. Their main demand was: Fill the 900 vacant workers’ positions. The lack of sufficient staff has affected patients’ health care and exhausted many workers.
Also, government workers have protested over the 500 vacant positions at the Seattle Veterans Hospital.
Another problem: Not enough masks are available. They are essential because they protect people from getting sick. Few people are wearing them outside. Retail workers in stores aren’t wearing them; some report the bosses won’t allow them to do so.
Masks are even being rationed in local hospitals. Health care workers are demanding more of them. The transnational 3M Company is surely anticipating huge profits from sales of these masks, which have been pumped out at plants in South Dakota, Latin America and China. But the U.S. government didn’t stockpile nearly enough — and there’s a worldwide need for them.
Rally warns of dangers at prisons, shelters
There is a looming threat of COVID-19 among workers in prisons and homeless shelters. At a rally on May 7 in front of the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center, an immigration prison, speakers warned of the virus’ threat to prisoners. They explained how a disease can rapidly move through a prison with inmates living in close quarters, while health care inside is almost nonexistent. If an epidemic is severe, it can even breach the prison walls. The Tacoma prison has already had outbreaks of such contagious diseases as mumps and chickenpox.
La Resistencia, the rally’s organizer, asks supporters to call the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department and politicians to demand an inspection of the prison and the release of all elderly and sick prisoners and those with chronic medical conditions.
The response to the COVID-19 health care crisis could be strongly affected by the demands and mobilization of workers and communities. An aroused and united working class demanding the right to essential medical care would make health care industry moguls lose profits, but it would save many lives.
The call for free, universal medical care for people of all nationalities and genders, prisoners, undocumented im/migrants, refugees and the homeless must be raised — and implemented all over the U.S.