After filing a lawsuit in May to end its affiliation with Renton, Wash.-based Providence, Hoag Memorial Hospital in Newport Beach, Calif., is alleging it is now the target of retaliation, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Hoag Memorial said that Providence removed Hoag Memorial’s three facilities from its website of Southern California locations and terminated Hoag Memorial’s specialists from St. Joseph Heritage Healthcare, a network of medical providers for managed care plans in Southern California. Additionally, Hoag Memorial said that Providence informed Heritage members they would lose access to Hoag’s 13 urgent care centers by Dec. 31.
According to the report, Providence’s notice to patients that Hoag facilities and physicians would be dropped from its network all came in the fall of 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was the most inappropriate, inexplicable and harsh thing to do to a lot of patients,” Hoag President and CEO Robert Braithwaite told the Los Angeles Times. “Finding a new physician or new specialist is particularly hard on seniors and any patient who has a chronic condition and has established a long-term relationship with an endocrinologist or rheumatologist or cancer doctor.”
Providence told the Los Angeles Times it disagrees that patients have been disadvantaged.
“We are committed to the well-being of our communities and to serving patients with high quality and compassionate care,” a Providence spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times.
Hoag Memorial has been affiliated with Providence, a Catholic health system, since 2016.
Hoag Memorial said the changes all came after the hospital sought to end its affiliation with Providence by filing a lawsuit. Hoag Memorial said in its lawsuit it is seeking to end the affiliation because Providence is undermining local decision-making and Catholic Church restrictions are expanding.
Providence has fought Hoag’s lawsuit to end the affiliation. The health system claims Hoag doesn’t have the right to unilaterally dissolve the affiliation, and its board members don’t have the authority to file the lawsuit. An Orange County Superior Court judge rejected Providence’s argument Feb. 1 and scheduled another court hearing for March.
In late November, Cliff Willmeng’s wife handed him a sealed envelope at their Minneapolis home “with some trepidation,” he recalled. He looked at the sender printed on the front: “Minnesota Board of Nursing.” Willmeng, a registered nurse, opened the letter and read that the board was investigating his conduct as a nurse at United Hospital in St. Paul, from which he’d been fired in May. Clearly his license was at stake.
Willmeng was disappointed, but not surprised. He believes the review is due to his standing up for his own safety and that of other nurses, and for filing a lawsuit and union grievance against United’s parent company, Allina Health, after his termination.
He also thinks the investigation, like his firing, has been orchestrated to scare other healthcare workers away from reporting safety violations and concerns as the pandemic rages, and to make an example out of the former union steward.
The investigation is being led by a former Allina executive: “It feels meant to intimidate me,” he said.
Taking a Stand for Safety
Willmeng is a 13-year nursing veteran, husband, and father, who began working at United in October 2019.
When the pandemic hit late last winter, managers instructed nurses to use and reuse their own scrubs rather than hospital-issued scrubs. They were asked to launder their scrubs themselves at home.
Willmeng and others worried about bringing the virus home and pressed for the hospital scrubs. These scrubs were available, he said, and healthcare workers were permitted to wear hospital gear at Abbott Northwestern, another Allina hospital in Minneapolis.
In addition, while United managers told staff their laundering co-op could not keep up with demand for all the scrubs, the co-op denied that assertion, said Brittany Livaccari, RN, an ER nurse and union steward at United.
Willmeng addressed his concerns with management, filed state OSHA complaints, and enlisted the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA). “He was taking action 100% to protect himself and to protect his patients,” Livaccari said.
But management did not change its policy, which was devised before the pandemic, and pointed to early-pandemic CDC and Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) guidelines — even when Willmeng shared emerging reports suggesting the policy was jeopardizing safety.
“It did feel like a pissing match,” Livaccari said. “We didn’t feel like we were being protected. … We weren’t being valued.”
Managers repeatedly wrote up Willmeng and colleagues who wore the hospital scrubs despite the policy. “It definitely felt like an intimidation tactic — ‘You’re going to do this, you’re going to follow these policies,'” Livaccari said. “A lot of staff chose to stop wearing those scrubs because they needed their job, they have families to pay for, they were afraid.”
Willmeng continued to wear the hospital scrubs. “I had to decide whether that policy was most important, or the safety of my workplace and public health and my family,” he said.
On May 8, the hospital terminated Willmeng. He said its stated cause was violating hospital policies regarding uniform code and a respectful workplace.
Two weeks later, the local nurses’ union held a rally that drew hundreds of supporters for Willmeng and blasted the hospital’s scrub policy.
‘I’m Not a Bad Nurse’
In June, Willmeng sued Allina for whistleblower retaliation and wrongful termination. The case is scheduled to be heard next August.
His union grievance is set to be arbitrated in January. He maintains his firing was not for “just cause” because United’s uniform code policy violated standard nursing practices.
Willmeng has been running the website WeDoTheWork, which describes itself as “worker-run journalism.” It’s an independent but union-affiliated publication that “unflinchingly tells our side of the story, and takes the fight to management.”
Willmeng is applying for jobs, but despite his experience, a national nursing shortage, and reports of severe understaffing as hospitalizations surge again, Willmeng has not even been interviewed by any of the roughly 20 medical centers he has applied to.
He thinks he is being blackballed. “I’m not a bad nurse,” he said.
The board letter cited these concerns: “On April 16, 2020, you received a written warning for not following the uniform policy,” reads one item, citing a report shared with the board. “On May 5, 2020, you were issued a final written warning for repeatedly violating policy. … On May 8, 2020, you were terminated from employment based on violating hospital policies, behavioral expectations, code of conduct, and not following the directions of your manager.” The letter asks Willmeng to respond to eight questions.
“This looks like it was taken right out of my HR file,” he said. The board will not reveal who reported him, citing confidentiality policies. But he is certain — given the detail in the letter — that it was Allina/United management.
The nursing board cannot comment on Willmeng’s review to protect confidentiality, said executive director Shirley Brekken, MS, RN. The board receives about 1,200 complaints annually and first determines whether a complaint would merit disciplinary action if true. If so, it launches a review.
Allina declined to answer questions via a spokesperson, citing the lawsuit. “We cannot appropriately retain employees who willfully and repeatedly choose to violate hospital policies,” according to an emailed statement. Throughout the pandemic Allina has been following CDC and MDH guidelines, “which do not consider hospital issued scrubs as PPE [personal protective equipment].”
“In the early days of the pandemic, our local and national supply chain was extremely stressed,” the statement continues. “Our practices are aligned with other local and national hospitals … and have enabled us to allocate the appropriate supplies for daily patient care and ongoing care for COVID-19 patients.”
But United healthcare workers still lack hospital scrubs and enough N95 masks, Livaccari said, and the hospital is severely understaffed as the patient load increases. “We hear, ‘It’s a pandemic. You have to do more with less,'” she said. “It’s a really bad situation.”
Retaliation and Intimidation
Some think Willmeng’s review was initiated primarily to retaliate against him, not to protect public health and safety.
“Hospitals, they want a docile workforce, they want a workforce they can control,” said John Kauchick, RN, a retired 37-year nursing veteran who advocates for workplace rights. They do so “by fear and intimidation,” he added. “A nurse’s number one fear is to be turned in to a board of nursing for anything.”
“If you’re a whistleblower and you speak truth to power, that will get you a disciplinary hearing even more so than if there is patient harm.”
The letter was drafted more than six months after Willmeng was fired, and after he filed the lawsuit and union grievance. Just before he received the letter, he was elected to the MNA board. The timing strikes Willmeng and Kauchick as significant.
“If you think there’s been a violation, you are supposed to report that in a much shorter time period,” Kauchick said. Kauchick thinks Allina filed the complaint as leverage, to persuade Willmeng to drop the grievance and lawsuit.
But Livaccari noted the process can take up to six months, and that every firing is supposed to be reported to the board.
Like Kauchick, she takes umbrage with the review’s leader: Stephanie Cook, MSN, RN, a board nursing practice specialist who spent 24 years as a director with Allina. She was a member of multiple Allina committees, including its ethics committee, according to reports. She was with Allina as recently as 2018. Brekken confirmed her employment with Allina, noting that it’s “a very large system.”
Regardless, that’s a conflict of interest, Kauchick and Livaccari said, arguing that Cook should not be part of the review. “It’s just so blatantly obvious. How are you going to look at this with an unbiased lens when you worked for the organization that says Cliff was in the wrong?” Livaccari said. “It’s so inappropriate.”
This is not uncommon, Kauchick said, noting state nursing board reviews are “really just designed to get rid of whistleblowers. It’s like a buddy system. They hire higher-ups from big hospital systems. It’s just incestuous.”
Brekken was aware of Cook’s background before a colleague assigned this review to Cook, she said, noting the board vets staff for personal involvement in cases. Brekken “might consider” removing Cook from the review given her connection to Allina, she said, but added: “Many individuals on our staff may have worked for a particular health system throughout their career.”
The board could throw out the complaint or take action. Such actions typically range from a reprimand to revoking a nurse’s license, Brekken said. A staff member and board member together will review the report and Willmeng’s response, but she said the board itself makes final decisions.
Willmeng is also focused on the grievance, which asks Allina to provide full back pay and reinstate him.
“I would not feel comfortable; I’d feel very anxious” going back, he said. “But I’m an ER nurse. I belong in the ER…. It’s important for a frontline healthcare worker to demonstrate that when they stand up and speak truthfully and assertively about working conditions and patient safety, that they can’t just be triangulated.”
His salary — about twice his current unemployment benefits — is also a draw, he acknowledged.
Meanwhile, he continues applying for other jobs. His life insurance cost doubled and his family switched to his wife’s lesser health insurance plan, he said. A fourth-grade teacher with a local public school system, her salary is the primary support for themselves and their two children.
Willmeng also just hired an attorney at $250 an hour to help him respond to the board letter. “It’s not something I take lightly,” he said. “There’s cause for real concern. That’s my nursing license, that’s everything.“
The adviser, Paul Alexander, criticized the agency’s methods, and said its warning to pregnant women “reads in a way to frighten women . . . as if the President and his administration can’t fix this and it is getting worse.”
As the country enters a frightening phase of the pandemic with new daily cases surpassing 62,000 on Wednesday, the CDC, the nation’s top public health agency, is coming under intense pressure from President Trump and his allies, who are downplaying the dangers in a bid to revive the economy ahead of the Nov. 3 election. In a White House guided by the president’s instincts, rather than by evidence-based policy, the CDC finds itself forced constantly to backtrack or sidelined from pivotal decisions.
The latest clash between the White House and its top public health advisers erupted Wednesday, when the president slammed the agency’s recommendation that schools planning to reopen should keep students’ desks six feet apart, among other steps to reduce infection risks. In a tweet, Trump — who has demanded schools at all levels hold in-person classes this fall — called the advice “very tough & expensive.”
“While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!” Trump tweeted Wednesday. Within hours, Vice President Pence had asserted the agency would release new guidance next week.
“The president said today we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough,” Pence told reporters. “And that’s the reason next week the CDC is going to be issuing a new set of tools.”
Analysts say the deepening divide is undermining the authority of one of the world’s premier public health agencies, which previously led fights against malaria, smallpox and HIV/AIDS. Amid the worst public health crisis in a century, the CDC has in recent months altered or rescinded recommendations on topics including wearing masks and safely reopening restaurants and houses of worship as a result of conflicts with top administration officials.
“At a time when our country needs an orchestrated, all-hands-on deck response, there is simply no hand on the tiller,” said Beth Cameron, former senior director for global health security and biodefense on the White House National Security Council.
In the absence of strong federal leadership, state and local officials have been left to figure things out for themselves, leading to conflicting messaging and chaotic responses. Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the World Health Organization further undermined efforts to influence global strategies against the coronavirus, including how vaccines will be distributed.
The CDC, meanwhile, is increasingly isolated — a function both of its growing differences with the White House and of its own significant missteps earlier in the outbreak.
Those stumbles include the botched rollout of test kits likely contaminated at a CDC lab in late January, which led to critical delays in states’ ability to know where the virus was circulating. And the CDC’s initial decision to test only a narrow set of people gave the virus a head start spreading undetected across the country.
During a May lunch with Senate Republicans, Trump told the group the CDC “blew it” on the coronavirus test and that he’d installed a team of “geniuses” led by his son-in-law Jared Kushner to handle much of the response,” according to two people familiar with the lunch who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“There is a view the CDC is staffed with deep state Democrats that are trying to tweak the administration,” said one adviser who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal private conversations.
White House officials, who see the president’s reelection prospects tied to economic recovery, also say they’ve been deeply frustrated by what they view as career staffers at the agency determined “to keep things closed,” according to a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal deliberations.
Trump believes the CDC is “ineffective” and a “waste of time,” but doesn’t blame CDC Director Robert Redfield and generally likes him, said another official speaking on the condition of anonymity. “He just thinks he is a poor communicator,” the official added.
Joe Grogan, former head of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said Redfield had fans inside the White House who work on “addiction issues, on life issues, on HIV issues,” among other topics.
But he said Redfield has few political appointees to help him run a complex agency. “How do you run a place like that with … [few] appointees?” Grogan asked.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar called the director “a key scientific guide for the President and his administration, a trusted source for the American people, and a closely engaged partner of state and local governments.”
But Redfield is not a voice in coronavirus task force meetings, and “is never really in the Oval [Office] with the president,” said another senior administration official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the internal dynamics.
Even Redfield’s supporters say he has failed to be an effective advocate for the agency.
“Bob Redfield’s commitment to public health is completely strong,” said William Schaffner, a veteran infectious-disease specialist at Vanderbilt University. But he said Redfield lacks the standing, deftness, and communication capacity to persuade skeptical audiences, including those in the White House, that protecting public health and fostering economic recovery are not opposing goals.
Redfield, for his part, downplayed Trump’s criticism of the CDC school reopeniing guidelines after a coronavirus task force briefing Wednesday, saying the agency and the president were “totally aligned.”
“We’re both trying to open the schools,” he said.
White House spokesman Judd Deere also disputed big differences, saying in a statement the White House and the CDC “have been working together in partnership since the very beginning of this pandemic to carry out the President’s highest priority: the health and safety of the American public.
“The CDC is the nation’s trusted health protection agency and its infectious disease and public health experts have helped deliver critical solutions to save lives. We encourage all Americans to continue to follow the CDC’s guidelines and use best-practices they have learned, such as social distancing, face coverings, and good hygiene, to maintain public health and continue our Transition to Greatness.”
But some health experts were indignant the agency had been ordered to rewrite guidance to reopen schools to “make it easier and cost less” — a demand that effectively “turns science on its head,” said Tom Inglesby, director of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Health Security.
“CDC should be giving their best judgments on how to lower risks to make schools safer,” he said. “That’s their job. If they aren’t allowed to do that, the public will lose confidence in the guidance.”
Why are they ‘not shouting “fire”?’
The diminished role of the 74-year-old agency has bewildered infectious-disease experts, as well as members of the public seeking guidance.
After six states set one-day case records on July 3, Carlos del Rio, executive associate dean at Emory University’s School of Medicine, tweeted at Tom Frieden, a former CDC director, “Tom, where is @CDCgov ? Why are they not out there shouting ‘fire’?”
Frieden shot back: “They are still there, still doing great work, just not being allowed to talk about it, not being allowed to guide policy, not being allowed to develop, standardize, and post information that would give, by state and county, the status of the epidemic and of our control measures.”
Jeffrey Duchin, the health officer at Seattle and King County health department, added: “Agree. Muzzled, neutered and exiled.”
The agency has been largely invisible. After more than three months of silence, it resumed briefings for the public last month. There have been two.
By comparison, when the H1N1 swine flu pandemic hit the United States in the spring of 2009, the CDC held briefings almost every day for six consecutive weeks.
During this outbreak, the agency’s regular briefings ended abruptly after White House officials were angered when a top CDC leader warned that Americans could face “significant disruption” to their lives as a result of the virus’s spread to the United States.
CDC officials say they are still getting their message out, pointing to more than 2,000 documents providing pandemic-related information about reopening and staying safe for dozens of groups and venues, including funeral home directors, amusement parks, and pet owners. Each Friday, the CDC also posts CovidView, a weekly report of selected data and trends on testing, hospitalizations, and reported deaths.
But the information is posted without additional explanation or analysis.
“I want to hear a real person give me three minutes based on these findings,” said del Rio, also a global health and infectious-disease professor at Emory. “I want to see them in the news, being interviewed, giving us the data.”
Scientists at the CDC and former colleagues speak of deep frustration and low morale over its inability to fully share and explain scientific and medical information.
Researchers are fearful for their jobs and want to protect the integrity of the data they release. “If you want to say something, you’re thinking, ‘what’s the White House going to say and how are they going to use it,’ ” said one longtime scientist who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
The lack of briefings has fostered misunderstandings at times. In early April, for instance, when the agency reversed its position and recommended the use of cloth face coverings, CDC scientists gave no public briefings explaining why they made the change.
“It’s not rocket science,” said Nancy Cox, a virologist and former CDC official who led the influenza program for 22 years and was part of the agency’s response during the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic. “But the reasoning behind those changes should be explained as clearly as possible and then you can get everyone on board.”
In the CDC’s absence, academic medical centers, public health and professional disease groups have filled the void by holding coronavirus briefings and providing analysis of key issues, data and research studies. Frieden, the president of Resolve to Save Lives, a New York nonprofit, has also been posting long Twitter threads analyzing the weekly CDC data released on Fridays.
Speaking ‘with an unfettered voice’
Alarmed at the agency’s diminished role, nearly 350 public health organizations sent a letter Tuesday to Azar urging him to advocate for the CDC. The agency must be allowed to speak based on the best available science “and with an unfettered voice,” said John Auerbach, president and chief executive of Trust for America’s Health, a public health nonprofit that led the effort.
House Democrats echoed those concerns in a separate letter to Azar last month. Reps. Diana DeGette of Colorado and Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said they were troubled by reports that administration officials are considering narrowing the CDC’s mission and embedding more political appointees at the Atlanta-based agency.
Traditionally the CDC has one political appointee, the director. Now it has Redfield and five other political appointees, including two advisers who were added in recent weeks.
“Now more than ever, the American people need a robust and effective CDC that is not repeatedly undermined by others in the administration, including the President and the Vice President,” the letter said.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows views the agency as a problem and has criticized the CDC repeatedly to other administration officials, said a senior administration official.
White House and HHS officials are discussing what the CDC’s “core mission needs to be,” said one adviser familiar with the talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment on policy deliberations. The discussions were first reported by Politico.
Over the years, the agency that was founded to fight malaria now works on virtually every aspect of public health. “It has tried to be everything to everyone,” the adviser said, suggesting the agency might need to refocus more narrowly.
On the global front, administration officials are also weighing a $2.5 billion initiative called the President’s Response to Outbreaks that would move a significant portion of national and international pandemic responses to the State Department, according to a draft obtained by The Post. Details were first reported by Devex.
“There is no clear leadership role for CDC” in this plan, said Jennifer Kates, a senior vice president for global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “In global health, you need an engaged CDC.”
Taken together, the administration efforts seem “designed to position CDC to the margins,” said one federal health official who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
‘Boogeyman where there aren’t any’
The report that drew the email attack, accusing the agency of undermining the president, had provided detailed but incomplete information about pregnancy risks related to the coronavirus. It found pregnant women with covid-19 were more likely to be hospitalized, admitted to an intensive care unit, and to need ventilator support than infected women who are not pregnant.
The sender, Alexander, a specialist in health research methods, is a senior adviser to Michael Caputo, a longtime Trump ally who was recently appointed assistant HHS secretary for public affairs , which includes the CDC.
The email was directed to Redfield and Caputo.
Even amid the intense criticism of the agency, the email “crosses the line,” said the official, who was aware of the content.
Like all of the CDC’s reports, the analysis itself noted several limitations. One key one that researchers acknowledged was that they did not have data to indicate whether the pregnant women were hospitalized because of labor and delivery, or because they had covid-19.
Administration officials are “seeing political boogeymen where there aren’t any,” the federal health official said, adding that such narratives could further hamper the U.S. response.
“It could feed the fire to limit the flow of scientific data and communication to the general population,” the official said. “People are getting sick and dying. Can we just focus on the science?”
Alexander said in his email that the lack of data about why women were hospitalized was a “key issue.”
“The CDC is undermining the President by what they put out, this is my opinion and sense, and I am reading it and can see the subtle and direct hits,” he wrote.
Alexander, also a part-time assistant professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, did not respond to emails and telephone calls seeking comment.
Caputo said in an interview that he agreed with Alexander. The CDC represents itself as the gold standard for public health agencies, he said, “but in the case of pregnancy analysis, it wasn’t even bronze.”
He called CDC’s track record “spotty” and “questionable,” pointing to Zika diagnostic testing errors in 2016.
“In many cases over the years, regardless of administration, the CDC has undermined presidents and themselves,” Caputo said, referring to leaked drafts of CDC guidances. “Who says the CDC is the sole font of wisdom when it comes to detecting and fighting deadly pathogens?”
Experts say that even with some big unanswered questions, the pregnancy findings represent the best available evidence and are important. The lack of data reflects decades of long-neglected national surveillance on pregnancy.
“I don’t think this is frightening women,” said Denise Jamieson, who heads the obstetrics and gynecology department at Emory University and Emory Healthcare. True, the report “suffers from completeness of data,” she said. But now doctors can be more confident that pregnant women are more likely to have severe disease and use “this really important information” to counsel patients, she said.
Workers say too little is being done to enforce social distancing in stores, and some are not given masks or training on cleaning.
Whole Foods workers across the US are planning to hold another sickout protest on 1 May, as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus infections at the supermarket chain continues to rise and workers charge the Amazon-owned company is doing too little to help them.
Workers complain too little is being done to enforce social distancing in stores; it is difficult, and sometimes impossible, to qualify for sick pay; and some are not given masks or training on cleaning. In the meantime, Whole Foods is reportedly recording record sales.
Dan Steinbrook, an employee at Whole Foods in Boston, said: “The bottom line is we don’t think Whole Foods or Amazon is doing nearly enough as they could be to protect both employees and customers at the store in terms of personal safety and public health.”
Steinbrook, who also participated in a sickout protest on 31 March organized by Whole Worker, a worker activism group said: “Grocery stores are one of the only places open to the public so they’ve become a significant public health concern in terms of stopping the spread of this disease. Any transmission we can stop at the grocery stores is extremely important for saving a lot of lives.”
Whole Foods workers have become increasingly concerned over the confirmed cases of coronavirus at Whole Foods stores. Employees have tested positive for coronavirus at Whole Foods locations across the country including West Orange, New Jersey; Sudbury, Massachusetts; Brookline, Massachusetts; Arlington, Massachusetts; Hingham, Massachusetts; Cambridge, Massachusetts; San Francisco, California; New York City, New York; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Allentown, Pennsylvania.
The Guardian spoke to several Whole Foods workers across the US about working conditions and the company’s policies. The workers requested to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.
“I haven’t felt safe going into work because Whole Foods hasn’t really done anything to combat the amount of Amazon shoppers in the stores,” said a Whole Foods employee at Bowery Place in New York City, the center of the coronavirus pandemic in the US. “The store has been closing earlier, but they still want us to stay until 11pm to clean, and we aren’t trained to clean or given masks or anything.”
Whole Foods workers have noted some stores where a worker has tested positive for coronavirus have yet to be publicly reported in the media.
“Team members are being told there was a deep clean overnight and not to worry,” said a Whole Foods worker in West Bloomfield, Michigan. “I’m scared to work. I have three immune sensitive people living in my house and I don’t want to get them sick, but I can’t lose my only income.”
A worker at Whole Foods in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, said there have been two positive cases at their store. “It has been almost impossible to maintain basic social distancing practices. We’ve seen huge sales ever since the outbreak and it’s been all hands on deck. As of 1 April, there were no limits on the number of customers allowed in at a given time,” said the employee.
In Minnesota, a Whole Foods employee is currently on unpaid leave after experiencing coronavirus symptoms when their roommate was advised by their doctor to self-quarantine.
“When I talked to my HR department they told me I would need to take a two week leave as well, but unless I test positive for Covid-19, I do not qualify for the ‘guaranteed two weeks paid time off’ corporate is saying they are offering,” said the worker. “Everyone knows tests are limited and unavailable to most people unless they are showing severe symptoms, and as retail workers, many of us cannot afford to go to the doctor unless we’re in desperate need of medical attention.”
A Whole Foods employee in Massachusetts is also currently taking unpaid leave after experiencing coronavirus symptoms.
“I’m in a situation where I can’t get tested or afford a doctor. At first I was told I wouldn’t be eligible for sick pay without a positive test. Later I was told that I might qualify, that pay was being disbursed on a case by case basis. My case has been pending for over a week with no response and I ran out of paid time off,” said the worker.
“My parents lent me money, so I’ll be able to finish quarantine and still afford groceries. Money was tight before bills were due, and those fears kept me from reaching out to a doctor. My symptoms were mild, but I don’t know what I would have done if they got serious.”
A Whole Foods spokesperson told the Guardian: “The safety of our team members and customers is our top priority and we are diligently following all guidance from local health and food safety authorities. We’ve been working closely with our store Team Members, and are supporting the diagnosed Team Members, who are in quarantine.
“Out of an abundance of caution, each of these stores performed an additional deep cleaning and disinfection, on top of our current enhanced sanitation measures. As we prioritize the health and safety of our customers and Team Members, we will continue to do the following to help contain the spread of Covid-19.”