Celebrating the Essential Medical Workers of Local 1000

Article Published on June 10, 2022

In May we celebrated National Nurses Month and our appreciation for those who make an unparalleled impact in the health care system and in the lives of their patients.

But there’s a much deeper story to the medical professionals in Bargaining Units 17 and 20—the Registered Nurses, the Registered Dental Assistants, the Licensed Vocational Nurses—among others—who not only provide quality care, but do their jobs every day at great personal risk.

Most of them are working “behind the wire” in prison facilities, where they are faced with protecting their own safety as well as the health of their charges.

“This is so different than private practice,” says Nancy Martinez, a dental assistant at Wasco State Prison. “We do our jobs with officers nearby; we have alarms. We practice tool control, keeping potential weapons from being taken by inmates.”

“Working in these conditions changes your awareness, affects your life off the job, too. You have to think outside the box.”

Latrice Dickerson is an LVN, also working at Wasco, and she shares Nancy’s sentiments. “We are constantly trying to balance safety and security with quality of care,” she says, but it doesn’t stop there. “At the same time, we’re barraged with changes in policy and procedure that create confusion and frustration.”

How the Pandemic Made a Difficult Job Even Harder

The challenges of delivering effective patient care in a prison environment became an order of magnitude more difficult with the arrival of COVID-19 in March of 2020.

“We were facing huge unknowns, a threating virus in a closed-in environment,” said Latrice. “And we were caught between a fearful inmate population and management who tried to shape day-to-day activities with policies that themselves were changing almost daily.”

Shortages of critical supplies—masks and other protective gear, COVID tests and the like—made a bad situation worse. Yet, at the same time, the dedicated medical professionals we represent stood together and stood tough.

“We were faced with staffing shortages, too, throughout the facility. We were called on to help wherever we could, and we delivered,” said Nancy Martinez.

It could be argued that in recognition of their essential work, of their dedication to their jobs and their patients, and of their extraordinary performance in an impossible situation, that every week is Nurses Week.

“Despite staffing shortages, mandatory overtime…and a 10% cut in pay…we hung in there, we did our jobs,” said Latrice Dickerson.