I’ve written before about my husband’s job. His difficult, difficult job:
If you haven’t read those posts, I highly recommend you take a coffee break before you read them, and probably another coffee break after you’re done. (Maybe not a coffee break afterward. Maybe chamomile tea. Because if your blood isn’t boiling after reading those posts, I haven’t done my job as a writer. And boiling blood plus too much coffee equals a visit to the ER. Right now, in a lot of the US, a visit to the ER isn’t just unadvisable, it might well be impossible. Half of the hospitals near me are in a state of “code black”–they’re routing all incoming patients to other facilities, because they’re completely full of COVID patients. But I digress.)
The TL;DR version of those posts: D is a 1a essential healthcare worker who repairs x-ray and ultrasound machines so freshly broken from the COVID areas of hospitals that they’re still smoking and dripping bleach when he gets them. He has to talk to frontliners all day to figure out the machines’ issues, so when people ask if D is a frontliner, I say yes. He’s not working on the patients themselves…but he’s working on the machines that are an intrinsic part of keeping them alive.
All the field service engineers from their company (the one I’m calling “BMC” in those posts up there) have a 1a letter that contains certifications from both the CDC and the DHS as to the critical nature of their work. D, and other FEs like him, qualified for vaccinations back in December 2020, right alongside other frontliners. Yet he and his co-workers were repeatedly turned away from mass vaccination events, multiple vaccination clinics at hospitals, and at least one pharmacy, just because “their names don’t appear on the county health department’s list.” Repeated attempts to contact the county failed. No phone pick-up, outright pick-up and hang-up, voicemail box full, no voicemail box set up, form emails, the works.
I knew rationally that our Local Health Department was doing the best it could with a limited budget. But as I told their voicemail, and repeatedly reminded my readers, 80% of the hospital imaging capacity for the entirety of central Virginia rode on only thirteen BMC guys at the time. Since I wrote those posts up there, three have already gotten sick and (sort of) recovered, one has been near-permanently removed from work by a car accident, and only blind luck has kept the other FEs from getting sick or injured, too.
By sheer internet doggedness my sister in Florida scored D his vaccination…in Roanoke, a three-hour one-way drive from here. BMC not only didn’t hire more FEs to help with the manpower situation during the worst of COVID, they couldn’t even be bothered to swing their ginormous healthcare bat to get their own employees vaccinated. In the exact words of D’s manager, “BMC is relying on our healthcare partners to get our employees vaccinated.”
What happens if Virginia doesn’t stay lucky–if these FEs get sick? Slowly, MRIs, CTs, x-ray, fluoroscopy, cardiac catheter, and ultrasound machines all over the state will go dark and stay dark. And the next time there’s any form of power outage, they’ll all go down. (They always do.)
And this is to say nothing of the BMC guys who repair ventilators.
So I’ve been livid since December 2020. The massive, international healthcare conglomerate that employs my husband as a frontliner wouldn’t get him vaccinated. BMC couldn’t be bothered to use their literal billions in profits to secure a vaccination contract that would protect the guys who are literally earning them their only profits.
Then the same company refused to hire more people (actual words: “you’ll just have to do more with less”).
As of this writing, the x-ray modality in our area is now down to six people.
Six people. Keeping 80% of the hospital imaging capacity of an area the size of a small state running. In a pandemic.
Got that? Now listen to this:
BMC, in its infinite wisdom, chose to move its entire parts warehousing system to a new location in the middle of the pandemic, and without first checking with its shipping partner [ahem! FedEx!] to see if they could cover the new area. Short answer: they couldn’t. Parts shipping has been at a standstill as FedEx has had to add entire flights, plus new shipping infrastructure, routes, trucks, and hires to compensate. Parts for down ERs have been sitting on a loading dock for days.
In addition, the new local BMC boss, in his infinite wisdom, hasn’t been checking to make sure that too many guys haven’t requested time off concurrently. He’s also slated too many people to go to training that he considers mandatory (“I don’t care if the hospitals are burning down, this training needs done”–nevermind the fact that the training hasn’t changed an iota in twenty years and D can pass the test without reading the materials, FEs must take the time away from their wrenches, unpaid, to do that training anyway). And, piece de resistance, the sales people have strong-armed the new boss into assigning three FEs to an installation project that the FEs knew was a shitshow before it even started.
So let’s do some quick math:
Six people. Minus two on vacation. Minus three juggling an installation and mandatory training. That leaves…
One guy. D. Keeping 80% of the hospital imaging capacity of a small state going in a pandemic. Single-handedly. With virtually no parts available. For the last two goddamned weeks.
A bad month, pre-COVID, would’ve seen D stuck at the end of the month with somewhere around thirty open calls in his online queue. The machines would’ve been repaired long since, the vast majority of them within 24-48 hours of being called in, but the electronic paperwork would’ve languished until he could get his monthly preventive maintenance calls done and finally catch his breath sitting behind a desk.
At one point during these last two weeks, he had nearly eighty open calls in his queue. Barely a handful of the machines are actually fixed. The rest are still broken, waiting for parts.
For the first time in his fifteen year career, he has had to triage calls (not just juggle them, that’s bog-standard). I mean triage, exactly like a doctor in a field hospital in a war zone. Is the machine hard down? Is it an ER? If it’s anything less than that, it’ll have to wait. Hospitals all over the state are having to move patients around to where the working machines are. One ER imaging system stayed hard-down for more than a week. Anyone in healthcare can tell you, the more you have to move an ER patient to do basic things like imaging, the more likely the patient outcomes aren’t going to be good.
BMC has officially screwed up so badly that patient outcomes are being affected by their business decisions.
FEs are used to being screwed by the company…so much so that they have invented, on the fly, snarky versions of every single corporate advertising slogan that the company has ever over-paid someone to devise (Think, “BMC. I imagine it’s working”).
I’ve been reading an awful lot of “I QUIT” stories lately. Some employers are calling it “The Great Resignation.” They claim it’s happening because workers are earning more by staying home on unemployment than they did by working. That’s horseshit. The Great Resignation is happening because many American workers are seriously rethinking their willingness to risk their lives for their shitty jobs. This family has been redoing that mental calculus right alongside the rest of America’s workers. And we’ve decided yes, we’ll risk ourselves for our families. Yes, for our friends. Yes, for our community. Because healthcare is not optional.
But should my husband be risking his life for some corporate SOB who tells him to “do more with less” and to “rely on” other companies to get him vaccinated? Should he risk his life for a company that has traditionally considered unpaid overtime SOP, because there have never been enough hours in the day to turn a wrench and do the paperwork, too? (The pandemic has only aggravated that problem, BTW–to the point that the boss has actually offered to pay the FEs overtime just to get the paperwork done. Their response? “We don’t want the money. We want our time. What good is money when we’re too tired or sick to spend it?”) These guys have been running on empty for years now–should they be willing to keep sacrificing themselves for a company that obviously doesn’t listen to them or even have the first clue what they’re going through?
The only reason D is still in this job is for the guys he’d be leaving alone in the foxhole if he left. These guys are his friends. They’re the family we have made because we’re far away from family. We’re not leaving these people in the lurch. The only way we’d leave is if all these guys left at the same time (like at least two whole modalities of BMC workers have already done, en masse, one group in Texas and another in Ohio). This group has too many people in it who can’t leave, though–guys who will be “working until they’re put in the ground,” because their families can’t do without their healthcare coverage or their paycheck or both.
But the red-hot second this mess is over…
Companies thought “The Great Resignation” was bad? Heh. Companies like BMC have no idea what’s coming. The bloodletting in healthcare jobs is only just getting warmed up. Once the doctors, nurses, therapists, social workers, technicians, and engineers no longer feel like they’re in a foxhole together, they’ll get out en masse. They cared too much and stayed too long, and when they’ve got breathing room, they’ll get out and never come back.
What replaces them will be a travesty: people who will do anything anyone tells them for a paycheck. That’s how abuses happen. (FYI, that’s how actual genocides start–just look at the hospitals in Germany during Hitler’s early days. People in hospitals were tinkered on for years before the first camp was designed. It’s frightening stuff. There’s a reason why advocates for the disabled are so shrill: we’re the canary in the coal mine.)
BMC is a huge, international conglomerate, but it shares one massive culture flaw with thousands of other American corporations, big and small: it has been using up the goodwill and health of their workers in a way they didn’t have to for years, just to preserve maximum profitability. Then COVID hit, and there was already no give left in the system. The Great Resignation is just getting going, and I think the downstream repercussions are going to be decades unraveling. And if workers don’t use this moment to force spectacular changes in how they’re treated, I don’t just fear for workers; I fear for all of us.