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San Joaquin County employees fear for health, safety in pandemic

Lodi News-Sentinel - 3/19/2020

Mar. 19--As San Joaquin County Public Health Services officials on Tuesday said there is no reason to implement a shelter in place, some county employees are claiming administrators are not doing enough to ensure their safety from coronavirus exposure.

During Tuesday's special meeting of the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors, clerk of the board Rachel DeBord read public comments emailed prior to the meeting.

Justine Orion asked why the county has not issued any protocols for employees. She said county social workers are being expected to conduct face-to-face visits with all clients in their homes, without pre-screenings or any protective measures in place.

Orion further claimed the county's demand on workers was in response to a recent strike undertaken by members of the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and the California Nurses Association.

"Protocols have been established nationwide, statewide and citywide, but the county continues to expect 100% compliance with work and does not allow remote work because it is against county policy," she said. "This is reckless and punitive behavior which will ultimately have negative effects on our community."

San Joaquin General Hospital employee John, who did not provide a last name in his email correspondence to the board, called county leadership on both the administrative and medical sides incompetent, saying they spent $125 million in the past five years but not did not hire additional staff to combat medical emergencies.

"I have been with SJGH for 36 years. We are all praying we don't get slammed with health issues from (COVID-19)," John wrote. "Total recruitment for trauma and neurosurgery (staff) is $55 million, and we're given next to nothing. If we need to survive (COVID-19), we need genuine and sufficient leadership in administration."

County administrator Monica Nino told supervisors that she sent a letter to all department heads that gave them the discretion of letting their staff work from home.

"At this point -- and I wrote right in that letter -- we are continuing to operate as usual," she said. "We've had some departments -- especially those that have employees with risks as a result of age and health-related complications -- allow their employees to be able to work remotely while also altering work schedules."

Nino has asked several departments to provide child care services to some staff who otherwise cannot work from home, she said.

Over the past week, county departments have reduced contact with the public by nearly 50%, she said, as a result of conducting business over the phone and through emails.

In addition, many county residents are following guidelines set forth by Gov. Gavin Newsom to stay home, which is also contributing significantly to shorter lines at department counters, she said.

"At this point, I'm not recommending we close to the public," Nino said. "We provide a lot of services to our county residents, and we've allowed department heads to do whatever they need to do online."

Greg Diederich, San Joaquin County Health Care Services Agency director, said not every department is able to provide the flexibility to its employees in the same manner.

Employees who are sick should be staying home and not endangering co-workers, but those who are healthy might be needed to fill positions in various areas when staffing is short, he said.

"We're county disaster workers, and in order to provide public health services and other deliveries in the county, we need workers to be present and be at work," he said. "If some employees work in an area such as child car seat safety, it might not be a critical area, but I may need an employee to staff in another area, like on a phone line."

Board chair Kathy Miller said she knew of at least one department at the county level that has moved its lobby completely online and is operating by appointment only.

"They're asking people to set up appointments online and then (the public) can come in," she said. "They're able to maintain social distancing, as opposed to getting people coming in and approaching the counter. I'm glad some departments are implementing these procedures."


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