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Harrisburg, April 28, 2020 — At the request of Senators State Senators Lindsey M. Williams and Pam Iovino (both D-Allegheny), the state Senate Democratic Policy Committee held its first-ever online hearing, which focused on the problems and needs of first responders, healthcare workers and other essential front-line workers.

The hearing follows a recent joint legislative hearing last week that focused on the Wolf Administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic across Pennsylvania and the impact of mitigation on business owners. 

“I appreciated the chance to speak with the business owners and industry representatives who spoke about how legislators can make this process clearly defined, uniformly applied, and transparent,” Williams said. “However, I am upset that our first responders, healthcare workers and other essential front-line workers were excluded from that hearing. Workers should never be an oversight, especially right now. Business cannot function without a healthy workforce. If we are hearing from business and industry, we should also be hearing from front-line workers.” 

Iovino added, “I am looking forward to engaging front-line workers and essential personnel at this hearing to get a better understanding of how we can re-open Pennsylvania’s economy, while first and foremost, keeping all Pennsylvanians safe.” 

Senator Boscola (D-Lehigh/Northampton), who chairs the committee, said the hearing would “provide valuable insight into the unique issues and problems facing front-line essential workers during this pandemic. From nurses to grocery store clerks, this hearing will provide a voice and forum for these heroic workers.”

Studies are revealing that the pandemic’s front-line workers are putting both their physical well-being, as well as their mental health at risk. These workers are significantly more likely to face depression, anxiety and insomnia. Boscola said the full toll on healthcare workers, first responders and service industry personnel is difficult to gauge since states are not consistently tracking who has the virus and the impact on these workers.

To adhere to pandemic social distancing guidelines, all hearing participants were linked remotely via the internet.

Josh Wiegand, fire chief for West Deer Township, VFC # 3, discussed how the dwindling numbers of firefighters and fundraising has worsened during the pandemic.

“Recruitment of new members has been put on hold as well as training for existing firefighters,” he said. “Some volunteer firefighters are currently not available for calls for many reasons. Some work in healthcare, some are high-risk or taking care of a high-risk family members, some are being quarantined for possible Covid symptoms or have children at home that would otherwise be in school. In the last three weeks, five fire and EMS personnel have tested positive for Covid and this has placed added pressure on those organizations to meet staffing needs.

Ralph Sicuro, who serves as president of the Pittsburgh Fire Fighters IAFF Local No.1, added, “As first responders we understand our profession comes with risk and we will continue to perform our duties knowing that risk we take. But this virus has raised the level of risk because when we are exposed, we’re taking that exposure home to our families. This has increased the stress and anxiety levels for first responders and our families.”

“Many of our members want to get back to work in order to provide for their families,” said Steve Mazza, council representative, Greater PA Council of Carpenters. “However, at the same time it’s essential we return to work in safe environments. The Health and Safety of our members and their families is of paramount concern to our Council’s leadership.”

Hillary Rothrock, a home healthcare worker from Harrisburg, added, “We are desperately in need of PPE and sanitation supplies. Because the consumer who wants to live in their own home is the employer, we don’t have n95 masks or access to them. We are low on necessary medical supplies like gloves and wipes; something an agency is paid by the state to supply but consumers are expected to purchase out of pocket from the open market. Something seen as a cost-saving measure for the state during normal times has turned into a potential death sentence during this time.”

Maureen Casey, a nurse at the Hershey Medical Center, discussed protective equipment shortages and how the pandemic has impacted medical staff members.

In addition to Williams, Iovino and Boscola, the following senators participated in the hearing: Senators John Blake (D-Lackawanna), Maria Collett (D-Bucks/Montgomery), Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), Andrew Dinniman (D-Chester), Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), Larry Farnese (D-Phila.), Vincent Hughes (D-Phila.), Tim Kearney (D-Delaware/Chester), Daylin Leach (D-Delaware/Montgomery), Katie Muth (D-Chester/Berks/Montgomery), Sharif Street (D-Phila.), Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks), and Christine Tartaglione (D-Phila.)

Those who testified included:

Josh Wiegand, volunteer fire chief & EMS provider ;

Ralph Sicuro, president, Pittsburgh Fire Fighters, IAFF Local No. 1;

Maureen Casey, registered nurse, Hershey Medical Center;

Hillary Rothrock, home healthcare worker;

Ted Lee, President, Branch 84, Letter Carriers; 
Jeff DiPerna, business agent/maintenance, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85;

Steve Mazza, council representative, Greater PA Council of Carpenters;

Leslie Bond, political and legislative representative, United Food and Commercial Workers Union; and

Gabe Morgan, vice-president, 32BJ SEIU

The hearing was the first exclusively online event ever conducted by the committee. It coincided with “Workers Memorial Day.”

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