Updated Aug. 3
A group of six Martha’s Vineyard Hospital (MVH) and Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center employees stood in front of the hospital Thursday with signs advocating premium pay for frontline hospital workers.
Guidance from Congress and President Joe Biden for distribution of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds includes a recommendation for ‘premium pay’ for essential workers. The division of the United Healthcare Workers union that includes MVH and Windemere is advocating that direct care workers receive one-time bonuses of between $1,000 to $3,000 based on the number of hours worked in direct contact with the health crisis. Under this plan, one-time payments would be made to approximately 200,000 hospital workers, 40,000 nursing home workers, and 20,000 community health center workers.
Workers in the union delivered a signed petition to the hospital administration asking for CEO Denise Schepici’s support approximately two months ago.
Marissa Lefebvre, a spokesperson for the hospital, referred the question to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital’s parent company, MassGeneral Brigham.
In a written statement to The Times, MassGeneral Brigham spokesperson Bridget Perry wrote that “ensuring that our frontline workers had the support and financial security they needed during the pandemic was one of our most important priorities and we continue to support our workforce and their families as we all work to recover. The distribution of funds from the American Rescue Plan is being determined by state leaders and over the coming weeks and months, there will be a deliberate legislative process to outline how healthcare organizations and the Massachusetts healthcare system as a whole should use the resources
to ensure that patients in every community have access to stable, viable, high quality healthcare when they need it.”
Carol Meikle, a patient access representative in the admissions and registration department of MVH, stood holding her sign that read “heroes deserve premium pay.” She said she has been with the hospital for over two years, and doesn’t understand why the administration won’t support a premium that is provided directly to workers by the federal government.
“As healthcare workers, we have shown up everyday since the state of emergency was declared on March 10, 2020, and we continue to show up today as the cases rise,” Meikle said. “We have fought for each other and supported each other and those we care for over the past 16 months, and we are still fighting today.”
For Meikle and other workers at the hospital and the nursing center, money from the ARPA funds would be a major help to them and their families, and support from the hospital would make a big difference.
“My family would be able to get caught up on bills and other necessities,” Meikle said. “Premium pay is not foreign — workers in other industries have received it from their employers but most hospital workers have not.”
She noted that supporting ARPA premium pay would not affect the hospital’s bottom line, and asked “why is Martha’s Vineyard Hospital opposed to advocating for us?”
“I urge Martha’s Vineyard Hospital to stand with us, fight with us, and do what is right,” Meikle said.
MVH lead mechanic and union delegate Chris Johnson said the fact that the union delivered a petition to hospital administration two months ago and are yet to hear any response is disappointing. He added that, for the past 16 months, hospital workers were told they were heroes, and were heaped with accolades and praise. But now, when workers are asking for the hospital’s endorsement for premium pay, they are silent.
“If the hospital does advocate for premium pay, it would show that all the praise of the past 16 months weren’t just empty gestures,” Johnson said. “As we can see, this is still an extremely busy time and the pandemic is far from over.”
Fred Thornbrugh of Windemere, who was standing with a sign reading “respect us, protect us, pay us” chimed in to say “we are an empathy driven industry — we just need empathy.”
Jerry Fishbein, vice president of the union, said in a phone conversation with The Times that the overall frustration from workers is related to not receiving support for a plan that would provide a much-needed financial boost to those who have been on the frontlines of the pandemic, and were lauded during the state of emergency for their ceaseless dedication to the Island community.
Fishbein stressed that the money for this kind of premium pay has not been earmarked for any other use, and would not affect the hospital’s budget whatsoever. “This money doesn’t come from the health system. It is money allocated just for this purpose from the federal government. Lots of heroes were provided with food and great accolades from the community — here is an opportunity to really put a concrete financial premium to folks, and we aren’t hearing the support we need,” Fishbein said.
According to Fishbein, political leaders like State Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, and State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, have been going to work advocating for premium pay for healthcare workers and hospital employees.
Legislative aide for Fernandes, Carlie Clarcq, said the state legislature began hearings on the ARPA funds about two weeks ago and is continuing to hear from various stakeholder groups about how they think the money would be best spent.
The deadline to spend the money isn’t until 2026.
“We have only had two of these hearings so far. This is definitely still very preliminary, but it’s up to the legislature. Those hearings will really help determine how that money is allocated,” Clarcq said. Clarcq added that the hearings will continue into the fall.
If the hospital stands in support of the premium pay, Fishbein said, it would go a long way for hospital employees and their families.
“If the administration locks arm and arm with folks saying ‘these are real heroes that deserve a premium,’ it is certainly uplifting in terms of morale and feeling like people are going to go to bat for us,” Fishbein said.
Updated to include comments from Fernandes’ legislative aide.