In summary

Too many California workers are not provided sufficient paid sick days or job-protected leave, putting patients and their families in impossible situations.

By Sharad Jain and

Dr. Sharad Jain is a primary care physician at the Sacramento County Health Center, sharadsf@gmail.com.

Melody Tran-Reina, Special to CalMatters

Dr. Melody Tran-Reina is a primary care physician at the Sacramento County Health Center, melodytran11@gmail.com.

As COVID-19 cases grow across California, we are seeing in real time how the fear of losing one’s job is a main contributor to infection rates.

Statewide, our public health departments have found outbreaks that start in the workplace, with their workers ill but having to choose between their paychecks and their health. Too many California workers in essential jobs are still not provided sufficient paid sick days or job-protected leave. 

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These meager job protections are putting coronavirus patients and their families in impossible situations. When family caregiving is needed desperately at home, the patient’s loved ones have little choice but to report to work or risk losing their jobs – and with it their housing income, grocery money, childcare and maybe even their health insurance.

As primary care providers in the safety net, we witness patients making heart-wrenching decisions in balancing their health needs with economic survival. The coronavirus outbreak has pushed so many of our working families to the brink. We’ve talked about the impact of COVID-19 on our patients’ health outcomes, but lack of access to sick days and insufficient family leave are often under-recognized factors that harm our patients. It’s time for California to take action.

One of our patients was recently diagnosed with schizophrenia and has had trouble accessing mental health care because of clinic closures due to COVID-19. The patient’s paranoia caused him to be so worried about contracting COVID-19 that he started bathing in bleach and washing his hands and face so vigorously that they started to bleed. 

His mother was his primary caregiver but had to continue to work because she feared losing her job as a contract employee. Because the patient remained at risk due to minimal supervision during the day, he was ultimately hospitalized because he was a danger to himself. His mother is worried about how she will care for him after his discharge from the hospital. She must continue to work to support them both financially but fears leaving him by himself. 

Another patient is an elderly woman with multiple severe medical problems who is lovingly cared for by her adult children. Due to her medical illness and early dementia, she required full-time care; however, her children made the difficult decision to leave her alone for long periods during the day because they had to go to work to pay rent and other bills. 

One day, the patient developed shortness of breath due to an asthma exacerbation. If her son had been home, he could have given her medication to prevent her breathing from getting worse. Fortunately, she was able to call 911, and the paramedics transported her to the emergency department for a 16-hour visit. If her children were able to take job-protected leave to care for her, her hospitalization might have been prevented.   

So many of our patients, and thousands of Californians, have had to make these impossible decisions over the last four months. Our paid leave laws have a broad influence on the health and well-being of individuals and their surrounding communities. These policies are having a disproportionate impact on our workers of color. 

A report in the Los Angeles Times found that Latino residents were more than twice as likely as white residents to contract the virus. In the Mission District of San Francisco, 95% of people who tested positive were Latinos. In Los Angeles County, the sources of outbreaks point back to workplaces such as warehouses, manufacturing plants, mail services and other essential services. 

We are urging our state lawmakers to support Assembly Bill 3216 and Senate Bill 1383 because these proposals would fill in gaps in job protections and paid leave, and increase paid sick days for the people of California. These protections and provisions are particularly important for our communities of color, especially in this time of economic uncertainty.

Every person should be able to take the time they need to care for their families during this public health crisis. By expanding these job protections and access to paid leave, we provide our communities with a compassionate way for them to focus on the health and well-being of themselves and their families without sacrificing their economic stability. 

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