Workers at Ohio’s Correctional Institutions Sound the Alarm Over COVID-19 as ODRC Approaches 100 Lives Lost

For Immediate Release: Thursday, June 25, 2020. 
For more information, contact:
 Joshua Norris at (877) 419-7348.

Union members with OhioMHAS Recovery Services and ODRC Express Concern About PPE, the Need for Greater Testing and Precautions, and Loss of Life as Pandemic Continues.

COLUMBUS, OHIO – Workers with Recovery Services, a division of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, in addition to other health and service providers who work within Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction facilities, state that the lives of staff and inmates are at a level of unacceptable risk. Last week, with  very short notice, staff members with Recovery Services, who provide drug and alcohol related treatment services, were ordered back to DRC institutions after working from home since the start of the state of emergency in Ohio. Members of SEIU District 1199 also say that they are not being provided with the proper personal protective equipment and that ODRC administrators have failed to hear their concerns.

To date, 5 staff members with the ODRC have lost their lives and as many as 86 inmates have died. “We are now approaching 100 deaths within ODRC institutions and this crisis started just four months ago,” said Joshua Norris, Executive Vice President for SEIU District 1199. “Union members who provide healthcare and other vital services at ODRC facilities dedicate their careers to the health, safety, and wellbeing, of inmates and the public. We are calling on ODRC administrators, OhioMHAS administrators, and Governor Mike DeWine to do everything possible for staff at these institutions, including maintaining work from home status, and providing the necessary and proper PPE to ALL members in the institutions and in all state agencies where there are suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19,” Norris continued.

Some workers with ODRC institutions state they are being provided with surgical masks and cloth facial coverings, not N95 masks, which offer a higher level of protection against COVID19. Even when in the vicinity of inmates that have tested positive for COVID19, N95 masks are being provided at the sole discretion of administrators. While shortages of PPE have occurred nationwide, staff members believe they are at a heightened risk due to potentially harmful management decisions within ODRC facilities. “Having the proper PPE is of the highest importance. ODRC may be providing PPE based on the recommendations of the Ohio Department of Health, but this is not enough mitigation. Staff members would be much more protected if they were properly equipped with N-95 respirators and face shields. It is simply a choice of putting peoples wellbeing above the cost of a mask. These financially driven choices also further place entire institutions, entire communities and our entire state at greater risk, this is NOT how you flatten the curve,” said Norris. Medical experts continue to note the ease at which the virus is spread during an incubation period and through individuals that may be asymptomatic.  

“We are concerned by the decision to have Recovery Services staff return to ODRC institutions, as conditions are now more hazardous than when they began to work from home. With many safety concerns, large groups of inmates in quarantine, and nearly 100 lives lost in just the last four months, the health and safety concerns of these workers must be heard. It just doesn’t make sense, these folks were instructed to work from home when there were no confirmed cases in the institutions and now, are being returned to the institutions when there are unmeasured numbers of cases at every institution and every institution in the whole state has confirmed at least one positive case and is on RED status. It defies all logic and will erase all of the progress accomplished by the stay-at-home order. Our members signed up to serve their fellow Ohioans and to be on the front lines of this emergency with the understanding that their employer, Governor DeWine, would provide them with the tools necessary to ensure they can do their jobs safely and return home each day without potentially infecting their households and neighborhoods. We are simply demanding that he live up to that commitment.”  

SEIU District 1199 leaders and Union members are calling on Governor DeWine and directors with the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to reevaluate their policies as they relate to COVID-19, the delivery of care and services, and the availability and use of effective PPE like N95 masks.

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