Members of the American Federation of Government Employees Union (AFGE) local chapter lined the sidewalks outside the Marion VA Thursday protesting what they say is unpreparedness by the VA in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Linda Rademaker, AFGE Local 1020 president, employees at the VA are not being given the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep them and their patients safe from the spread of the coronavirus.
“We need N95 masks available to us every day,” Rademaker said. “We should not be forced to put our (surgical) masks in a paper bag and store it until the next day. A clean mask protects the veterans as well.”
At the start of the COVID crisis, Rademaker claims the locks to the PPE closet were changed and only the director, the logistics chief and a police officer were given a key.
“If we need to get something out of that closet it's a half hour process at best,” Rademaker said. “We want our keys back.”
Mary Woods, a registered nurse at the VA, said that on April 1 a fellow nurse was told to remove the N95 mask she had bought for herself, despite the fact that the nurse suffered from asthma.
“We weren’t allowed to wear masks in the hallways because they said it made us look like we were scared or sick,” Woods said. “Then the next day they said we must wear a mask, just not the N95s, just the little cloth ones.”
Wendell Grissell, a housekeeper at the VA and a Marine Corps Veteran, stood among those protesting without a mask.
“We all work close proximity to veterans and sometimes we don't have adequate PPE to protect each and every one of us,” Grissell said. “That's why I'm standing here without a mask. It's time to protest and speak up and hopefully it will make a change and we will be able to get the stuff we need.”
In addition to issues with PPE, Rademaker said she has received repeated complaints about delayed reasonable accommodation for employees that are sick and qualify to work from home.
Many employees of the VA Muncie and Peru community based outpatient clinics (CBOC) were reassigned to the Marion VA, adding an extra hour or more of driving for some employees, Rademaker said, without any compensation.
“We’re government workers. We are here taking care of veterans, and we shouldn’t be treated this way,” Rademaker said.
Management has been notified both verbally and in writing of each issue, according to Rademaker, and she said none of the issues have been resolved.
“The lack of VA top leadership combined with their deliberate refusal to engage with the employees' representatives has left our VA workers, veterans and their families more vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus,” Rademaker said.
VA representatives did not respond to the Chronicle-Tribune's request for comment as of deadline Thursday.