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COVID19: Life on the frontlines in Las Vegas

The pandemic took new turn in December
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Healthcare workers and SEIU Local 1107 gather outside Mountain View Hospital on Dec. 9 amid a contract dispute.
Healthcare workers and SEIU Local 1107 gather outside Mountain View Hospital on Dec. 9 amid a contract dispute.
Posted at 3:19 PM, Dec 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-28 18:19:38-05

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — The pandemic that has turned life upside down for the better part of a year is moving into a new phase as vaccines are being distributed but for front line workers the battle against the virus rages on.

At Community Ambulance headquarters in the calls for help keep coming in to their dispatch center.

For months, the private ambulance company, which primarily services Henderson and Southern parts of Clark County has been dealing with COVID-19.

"Our employees are amazing, what they do on a daily basis, they show up every day they go straight out on the front lines and they don't hesitate to answer the calls that are constantly coming through," said Glen Simpson with Community Ambulance.

Part of the job is enhanced cleaning procedures to combat the spread of COVID-19 and protecting the health of patients and staff.

Community Ambulance recently began using a device that looks like a camping lantern which uses a specific band of UV light to kill viruses like COVID-19.

"We are not able to necessarily get into every nook and cranny or behind every button on our equipment so by the deploying the UV-C light we're able to kill those viruses and kill them on contact," explained Simpson.

Simpson says the technology is a first for a private ambulance company in Southern Nevada and says once an ambulance rig returns from a shift the light is placed inside for a round of cleaning which can take several minutes.

"By deploying the technology we feel like we're providing an even safer environment for our patients and their families that are in their time of need," added Simpson.

Simpson says, like every agency, members of Community Ambulance have contracted COVID-19 through the course of the pandemic.

Learning to adapt is a part of life on the front lines from ambulances to hospitals.

"This has been the craziest year of my 30 years," said Richard Baenen, a respiratory therapist at Mountain View Hospital.

"I thought when I saw H1N1, that would be the worst, this far eclipses that and I hope to never see it again," added Baenen.

Baenen says working with patients who are struggling to breath and impacted by the insidious virus is a daily reality.

The professional and personal toll on him and other front line workers have been enormous.

"It's everything, there are things out of our control, like having to watch patients dying without their family members there, that's heartbreaking," explained Baenen.

In the middle of the pandemic, amid the battle for life and death, contract negotiations are stalled for some hospital workers which has lead to protests.

13 Investigates observed dozens of workers supporting SEIU Local 1107 outside Mountain View Hospital in early December.

RELATED: Las Vegas-area hospital staff holds walkout amid rising COVID cases, threats

"These folks are walking into the COVID units day after day, knowing they are coming into contact with a live virus, you would think that they would be tested regularly, they are not," said Kevin Carey, President of SEIU Local 1107.

The union representing some hospital staff at three hospitals, Mountain View, Sunrise, and Southern Hills, is demanding, among other items, better pay, lower healthcare coverage costs, personal protective equipment and access to consistent COVID-19.

The union says the new contract covering the impacted employees is not moving forward and the current contract extension ends on Dec. 31.

Mountain View Hospital released a statement regarding the situation:

It is unfortunate that during a global pandemic, this union is once again making false allegations and trying to use COVID-19 as a bargaining chip. We are disappointed that the SEIU Local 1107, which represents maintenance and technical employees, would potentially violate the collective bargaining agreement and National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) with an event that is described as a “walk out.”

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been proud to stand with and protect our front-line colleagues as we care for members of our community. As we continue bargaining sessions with SEIU Local 1107, our resolve remains the same. Our goal is to secure a fair agreement with the union that continues to support a culture of colleague safety and continues our high expectations of excellent, compassionate care.

An SEIU Local 1107 spokesperson points out the organization also represents nurses, medical technicians, and therapists.

This month did mark a major turning point in the course of the pandemic as the first vaccines arrived at hospitals like UMC.

The first round of shots were given to medical workers, hospital staff and other critical employees like police officers are next.

"Our folks are out there, like they've been from the very beginning, doing the job they have to do," said Steve Grammas, president of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association.

"It's not one of those jobs where we can say 'we're just not gonna come in because this sickness is out there,'" explained Grammas.

Grammas says, from his perspective, the department has weathered the pandemic well, although known, reported cases among police personnel number in the hundreds as of the middle of December.

Grammas says the subject of requiring officers to take a vaccine when it becomes more widely available has to be negotiated between the union and the department.

"I'm sure once it becomes available we will have plenty of our officers who will choose to take i,t I'm sure there will be some that don't take it, I think it'll be a tossup," said Grammas.

So far, Grammas says there's been no extensive talks with the department and no timeline as to when officers may have access to the vaccine.