Union urges stricter measures against COVID-19

By John McPhaul

General Workers Union (UGT by its Spanish initials) President Gerson Guzmán López urged Health Secretary Carlos Mellado López and Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia on Sunday to implement stricter measures to address the public health problem Puerto Rico is facing with an increase in infections, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.

The UGT represents all unionized workers of the Department of Health, its programs and hospitals, including the Medical Center in Río Piedras, the Mental Health and Anti-Addiction Services Administration, San Juan’s Capital Health urgent care clinic and its Municipal Office for Emergency Management, and the Medical Emergency Corps Bureau, as well as employees at more than 25 private medical facilities across the island.

Guzmán López also requested from government officials that additional protection measures be guaranteed to health workers who work in hospitals and medical facilities on the island, who have been carrying out their work on the front line of care for patients from the moment the pandemic was declared in March of last year.

“It is well known that hospitals in Puerto Rico, as well as any entity that provides health services, operate with a shortage of personnel in all their areas, especially nursing personnel, support personnel, technicians and paramedics and others. During all this time, and in order to attend to the patients who go to the hospitals, these personnel have had to work double shifts or stay on extended work hours, given the extraordinary situation caused by the pandemic,” Guzmán López said in a written statement. “Given this reality, the increase in infections and patients admitted during recent weeks, it is essential to adopt extraordinary measures that allow adequate rest and greater safety in their work performance. Health personnel on the island have been under these working conditions continuously for more than a year and are exhausted, physically and emotionally.”

Regarding the measures contained in the most recent executive order, the UGT president said he considers them insufficient for addressing a situation that the Hospital Association itself considers to be “out of control.”

“Along with the adoption of more restrictive measures, it is necessary to maintain the educational campaign for citizens, conduct mass testing, continue and redouble vaccination efforts and make the tracking work truly effective, while at the same time meet our demand for attention to health workers,” the union leader said. “Failure to adequately address the present situation would put our health system at imminent risk of collapsing and we know the dire consequences that this would entail.”

Guzmán López also demanded that the recommendations of the groups of scientists, doctors and health professionals who have expressed the need to again declare a total closure for a minimum period of two weeks be heard and valued, as an urgent measure to contain the current wave of infections that engulfs the island, without forgetting the rigorous measures that must be implemented to contain the entry of visitors to the island through ports and airports.

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