Northern Colorado hospital couriers protest lack of protective equipment while transporting COVID-19 samples – The Denver Post

A group of employees protested outside the Fort Collins office of Hospital Couriers Wednesday afternoon, claiming that the company is putting them in danger by not providing them with personal protective equipment while delivering COVID-19 samples throughout Northern Colorado.

The employees work as couriers for the region’s hospitals, including McKee Medical Center and Medical Center of the Rockies. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, they have been tasked with delivering potential COVID-19 samples from nursing homes and other facilities to hospitals for testing, and delivering medications to the homes of people who have the virus.

A group of employees began staging a sick-in on Monday, and say that they will not come back to work until they are given proper personal protective equipment and hazard pay.

The employees say that they are eager to return to work, but don’t want to risk their lives to do their jobs. They are afraid that they are putting not just themselves but also their family members at risk by not having the proper equipment.

“They expect us to risk our health on the job every single day,” said Sia Stafilas.

On the last shift she worked, courier Amber Giles said she delivered 15 COVID-19 samples in a four-hour time period without proper protective equipment.

Courier Heather Lindley said that she transported specimens from North Shore Health & Rehab in Loveland the night before it announced that it had a COVID-19 outbreak.

Lindley usually uses a code to get into a building, but that night the keypad wasn’t working. When she knocked, a nurse arrived wearing gloves and a mask, and took her all the way through the facility to the nurses’ station to get the specimens. Along the way, all the staff members Lindley saw were wearing protective equipment.

When she arrived at the hospital lab she was transporting the samples to, she told the lab tech about the experience.

“I said it was so weird when I was there, the door was locked and everybody’s wearing gloves and masks,” Lindley said. “And she said, ‘well don’t you know? They have COVID.’ And I said, are you kidding me? Why did they let me in there?”

Several employees voiced frustration at the disparity between their designation as “essential employees” and the way they are being treated by their company.

“I call it an ‘essential disposable employee,’” said Amber Giles. “Am I not worth $5 to buy a mask?”

A group of six couriers wrote a letter to upper management voicing their concerns and requesting that the company fix unsafe working conditions and compensate them an additional $4 per hour.

In the letter, which was shared with the Reporter-Herald, the employees said their work was emotionally taxing as well as physically dangerous.

“It’s very upsetting to be on the dock at a hospital picking up packages and having a funeral director wheeling out the deceased past you,” it read.

Heather Lindley said that other employees share the group’s concerns but were afraid of signing their name to the letter over fear of being fired. During the protest multiple vehicles driving by honked in support, including several that the protesters identified as being driven by Hospital Couriers employees.

After the group distributed the letter among some of the other employees at the company, Lindley said she got a phone call from her manager, who told her “not hand this (expletive) out to his employees anymore.”

“How am I going to get employees to work with you handing this out?” she said he asked her.

A representative of Hospital Couriers, which has Colorado offices in Fort Collins, Denver and Colorado Springs, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Lindley said that employees began to be concerned when they first heard about the virus in January. When they reached out to management to ask what they were doing to prepare, they were always brushed off, she said.

At first, management told them to get PPE from the hospitals they were delivering to. Now that hospitals are experiencing their own shortages of equipment, that’s been challenging to do.  Employees have had to purchase their own cleaning equipment and supply their own masks.

The company did provide employees with bottles of sanitizer to clean the company cars and their equipment, but did not say what it was, Lindley said. When employees found the original packaging, they found out that it was industrial sanitizer that would not effectively protect against the virus and could cause burns and eye damage.

The employees filed a complaint to OSHA about the sanitizer. Stafilas said that a representative contacted the company and said that it had until April 14 to correct the issue.

The company so far has been unwilling to meet any of the group’s demands, and several employees said they were threatened with being fired if they call in sick again.

“They basically just said, ‘you signed up for this,’” Giles said.

“They say we’re essential, but we’re really not,” Lindley said. “They don’t care about us. All they care about is making money.”

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