Earlier this week The New York Times published a headline that certainly alarmed health care workers: “Heat Wave and Blackout Would Send Half of Phoenix to E.R., Study Says.”
The study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, noted the strain the twin disasters of a heat wave and electrical grid failure would have on the city’s health care systems, and consequently on health care workers.
Health care workers and populations in cities farther north are vulnerable, too. Researchers found 216 people would die during a heat wave and power failure in Detroit.
It’s not idle speculation: The study notes that blackouts have more than doubled since 2015. This trend comes at a time when extreme weather events such as heat waves, hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires cause increased stress on the nation’s power grid.
Thursday, U.S. Rep. Summer Lee, D-Swissvale, and Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., introduced legislation they say will strengthen the nation’s ability to handle such events by raising hazard pay and strengthening protections for health care workers providing care during emergencies and extreme weather disasters.
The Hazard Pay for Health Care Heroes Act empowers the secretary of the Department of Health and Humans Services to issue grants that would implement hazard pay of up to $13 per hour as well as additional safety measures such as providing personal protective equipment for essential workers in health care and supporting services engaged in providing medical assistance during emergencies and weather disasters.
The legislation would apply to a broad spectrum of workers — home care providers, medical technologists, nurses, doctors and environmental services staff.
“Every time disaster strikes, our health care workers show up for us — even when it means putting their own lives at risk,” Lee said. “It’s time we show up for them with pay and protection, not just bells and whistles. With public health and environmental crises from pandemics and train derailments to climate-driven disasters becoming more frequent and more dangerous, we need bold action” to protect health care workers as well as the patients and communities they care for.
Matt Yarnell, president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, noted the COVID-19 pandemic as an example of a time when health care workers stepped up in a crisis and voiced his support for the legislation and the need for hazard pay and proper PPE.
“The next public health and climate related emergency will certainly show up and we need to be prepared and have our workforce ready to respond with all the resources and leadership we need.”