Page 12 - Work Force May 2020
P. 12

Answering the call to help save lives
Amid health care mask shortage, CSEA activist leads effort
— Upon receiving
an alarming text
from a friend
who is a nurse
at Plattsburgh’s
Champlain Valley
Physicians Hospital
Clinton County
Employees Local
2nd Vice President Cindy Gallicchio mobilized a community-wide effort to assemble face masks for workers and volunteers in need.
“[My friend] said she would likely catch [COVID-19], but she felt she was strong enough to fight it off,” Gallicchio said. “I started to cry as
I processed what she was saying and what that would mean for her and her family. I’m scared for my friends in the health care field as much as I am for my own family and community.”
Knowing of the massive national shortage of N-95 and other masks and respirators needed to protect against COVID-19, Gallicchio, a social welfare examiner at the Clinton County Department of Social Services, wanted to help in any way possible.
“I read an article about these cotton masks being made in Indiana at the request of a hospital there and thought that I could make a difference by making them here, too,” she said. “The article stated that they are CDC approved [as a last resort] in light of the medical supply shortage, so I felt confident that they would be used.”
The article included a link to pattern for readers to sew masks. As health care workers were waiting for these supplies in an increasingly busy environment, Gallicchio took action and started sewing as the crisis unfolded in March.
Proper usage essential
CSEA continues to maintain that if your job requires wearing personal protective equipment, it is your
employer’s responsibility to provide it, train you on proper usage and its limitations, and most importantly,
to make sure you are medically fit to wear the device. This would include devices like respirators and surgical masks.
CSEA also recognizes that right now, proper surgical masks and other air-purifying respirators like N-95s may be in short supply for some time. Employees who wish
to provide their own improvised masks should be afforded the right to, provided they understand how to properly use them to maximize their effect.
A community effort
Soon after Gallicchio began sewing, she decided to make the project into a community effort.
“I contacted
one of my closest
friends, Cassie
Sellars, a school
nurse at the
Plattsburgh City
Schools, and told her what I was going to do,” Gallicchio said. “She jumped into action and began helping me organize this big effort.”
Sellers, a NYSUT member, and her husband, who is employed at CVPH, soon secured a donation from the hospital foundation. They bought cotton material and elastic required to make the masks.
Gallicchio also reached out to neighbors, friends and even her CSEA brothers and sisters. Soon, she started receiving donations
of materials at her property. Volunteers, including our members, offered to sew masks, cut materials or deliver the materials to those sewing. The group also bought elastic in bulk; as this edition went to press, 580 yards of elastic have been used on this effort.
Within hours of reaching out to her community, Gallicchio had about
18 people sewing and more people cutting and delivering materials. Many of the volunteers also donated their own supply of materials.
“I organized the materials into 20 pre-cut masks, so all people had to do was sew,” Gallicchio said. “We essentially created a ‘social distancing’ assembly line. We never had actual contact with each other, but we operated like a well-oiled machine.”
Strong community response
As this edition went to press, Gallicchio and the group of volunteers have made more than 1,400 masks. About 380 masks have been sent to CVPH to be used by health care workers treating non- COVID-19 patients, thus conserving the scarce N-95 masks needed in critical care settings.
A Plattsburgh senior center received masks for drivers delivering meals to the elderly, as did Clinton County employees, particularly those who are performing essential public services.
Several local nursing facilities and other agencies
have also received
masks. The group
has also delivered 564 masks to most of the county’s school districts
for use by bus drivers and food service workers (many represented by CSEA), who
are prepping and delivering food to families in need. Gallicchio said they have also donated masks
to organizations outside the North Country, including a Chicago hospital that received 40 masks.
Gallicchio said demand for
the group’s masks significantly increased after the governor issued an executive order requiring New
Yorkers to wear face coverings in public places.
“We have received hundreds of requests for the masks,” Gallicchio said. “We are doing so much more than we ever imagined we would do or that there would be need for.”
Answering the call
Gallicchio credits her experience as a CSEA Leadership Education And Development (LEAD) Program graduate for her ability to organize such a campaign so quickly and successfully.
“I managed to organize what I would call a ‘campaign’ exactly the way I learned to from CSEA’s LEAD Program,” she said. “I knew what
to do and how to do it without hesitation. I knew I had social resources. I knew who my allies were and what would be available to me.
I knew we could make a difference and that’s what we’re doing. I feel like this is our Rosie the Riveter moment and that we’re answering the call to help save lives.”
“Our health care providers are scared and more so by the day,”
Gallicchio said. “It is our hope that what we are doing in some way brings them a feeling of support and encouragement that what they are doing is heroic and that they can keep doing it every day. I am in awe of the bravery of our medical workers and pray that these masks protect them and save lives.”
Gallicchio reports that her team
of volunteers is
committed to keep the work going. “The outpouring of support, donations and volunteers has been
overwhelming,” she said. “I’m proud of everyone who participated in this effort and know it will continue.”
— Therese Assalian
  12 The Work Force
May 2020

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