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‘We’re outraged’

Stormy Lapahie, an intensive care nurse, protests outside the University of New Mexico Hospital on Wednesday morning for more personal protective equipment and hazard pay, among other things. (Anthony Jackson/ Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Some nurses and other front-line hospital workers at the state’s only Level 1 trauma center have used their paid time off since being sent home to isolate after being exposed to the coronavirus at work.

That was among the grievances aired by the roughly 60 workers who lined up along Lomas NE outside University of New Mexico Hospital on Wednesday morning.

Standing 6 feet apart on the sidewalk, the workers held signs drawing attention to personal protective equipment, or PPE.

“Please Protect Everyone,” one sign read.

The nurses and other workers said they are upset about having to use paid time off while quarantined after possibly being exposed to the virus at work, said Eleanor Chavez, executive director of the local chapter of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, which represents nurses and other employees at UNMH. They also raised concerns about the availability of protective equipment.

In an intensive care unit at the hospital assigned to treat patients with COVID-19, 10 hospital employees, including seven union members, have been sent home to stay in isolation after being exposed to the virus, Chavez said.

She said those employees and others have had to use their accrued paid time off. Union officials have argued that the hospital should put those workers on paid administrative leave.

“We’re outraged about it,” Chavez said.

Chavez said the hospital hasn’t provided data, but union officials estimate that 15 to 20 union members have been sent home after being exposed to the virus during work.

Hospital spokesman Mark Rudi in a statement said UNMH’s sick leave policies remain in place.

“Our human resources policies, including our comprehensive health care coverage and our extensive sick leave policies, remain in place,” he said. “We recognize and appreciate the dedication of our staff.”

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