National Nurses United, the largest group of registered nurses in the U.S., has been tracking infections and deaths among healthcare workers. Last month, the union released a report saying that more than 1,700 had died, including at least 213 nurses. The group lambasted government officials for insufficient tracking and a lack of personal protective equipment.
In California, several hospitals have been fined for not keeping workers safe from the virus, including Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, where a 61-year-old charge nurse rushed in to administer life-saving chest compressions to a dying COVID-19 patient in April. She was wearing only a thin surgical mask, rather than a more protective N95 mask because of a lack of PPE at the hospital. She contracted the virus and died two weeks later.
"These deaths were avoidable and unnecessary due to government and employer willful inaction. Nurses and healthcare workers were forced to work without personal protective equipment they needed to do their job safely," National Nurses United President Zenei Cortez said in a statement.
"It is immoral and unconscionable that they lost their lives. Our state and federal governments must require hospitals and other healthcare employers to publicly report infection rates and deaths of their workers."
On Saturday, co-workers in Sally's tight-knit work community gathered to release a bouquet of colorful balloons, etched with heartfelt messages: Miss you forever. Love you always. We will never forget you. We will remember you every single day.
"Sally was a beloved nurse at St. Mary Medical Center, and we are devastated by her tragic passing. Not only did she exemplify what it means to be a compassionate nurse, but more so what it meant to be a compassionate person," Patricia Aidem, a spokeswoman for Providence hospitals, which includes St. Mary, said in an emailed statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and our staff who are in mourning."
The longtime nurse will be buried Friday in Victorville, and the hospital where she worked nearly half of her life - and where she died - plans to hold memorial services in her honor.
"I guess you don't realize how tight you are with your work family until you experience something like this, and I think everybody kind of came together at the end and realized how much we mean to each other," Lampman said.
That extended work family continues to embrace Ben, who would have celebrated his 20-year anniversary with Sally in December. As a married couple, the two took trips almost every spring and autumn, including visits to see the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C., and the leaves change in New York. They had planned an Alaskan cruise this spring, before the pandemic shut everything down.
Ben, who continues to work at St. Mary, is transitioning into another new life, this one without Sally.
"I have friends, close friends that are supporting me. Sometimes they come in and bring me some food, stuff like that," Ben said. "Basically, I'm all alone in the house because there (was) just two of us."
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