Dozens of health professionals—including radiographers, surgical technologists, and respiratory therapists—gathered today in front of Plaza de la Democracia in front of the Capitol demanding that their work be recognized during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The protest mobilized members of the Police Bureau to the Capitol, closely monitoring events. Orange fences were placed in front of the entrance stairs. Some health professionals attended the demonstration in person, while others traveled in caravan around the premises of 'Th House of Laws.'
"We are really (claiming) the part of professional recognition within those professional and health-related areas in which we are part of the workforce. In this, we have direct contact with the patient without any distance when providing services in different specialties. There is no patient that can be diagnosed without a chest plate or CT scan," Eduardo Brito, from the Puerto Rico Federation of Technologists in Diagnostic Imaging and Treatment (FTDIT), told THE WEEKLY JOURNAL.
Brito, who has 18 years of experience as a medical technologist, indicated that the government has remained silent on how they will handle the incentive that the governor promised to that sector two months ago. They also stated that the category of "health technicians," as outlined in Gov. Wanda Vázquez's economic plan, is very generic.
"We are not mentioned in absolutely anything. So much so, that the secretary of the Department of Health (Lorenzo González) takes out some kind of professional guidance and if you read them, he never mentions diagnostic imaging technologists, surgical technicians and respiratory therapists. It is as if they did not exist," he added.
The incentive that the government promised for "health technicians" is in the amount of $2,500 for those in the public sector and $1,500 for those in the private sector. This, as part of the $787 million economic aid package that Vázquez announced two months ago and with the endorsement of the members of the Financial Oversight & Management Board for the coronavirus situation in Puerto Rico.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Health Resources and Ser…
Moreover, Alejandra Romero-Brenes Hernández—who is a surgical technician at the Río Piedras Medical Center—denounced that the incentive has not yet been made available to any of the health technicians.
"The bonus that the governor promised us has not yet been fulfilled. There is a new excuse every day: that the money is held by the Treasury, and another day it is held by the Office of Management and Budget, and another day it's that the Medical Services Administration (ASEM) has not made the classification," Romero- Brenes Hernández said.
She said she was not clear on whether the operating room personnel, those of sterile supplies, radiology, therapy, and pharmacy fell under the "health technicians" category.
"The only ones who have received the money are the nurses, especially in the Medical Center, but there are others who have not received it. They haven't told us anything and we want them to explain it to us," she explained.
Meanwhile, Enrique López Valentín, from the FTDIT, said that more so than an incentive or a bonus, "what we want is for our professions to be recognized."
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"Our professions, like nurses and doctors, are from the multidisciplinary health team and they do not recognize us as such. We are a team—without the doctor, we are nothing; without the nurses either. It is a chain and what we want is justice for our professions," he asserted.
López Valentín estimated that there are currently about 5,000 radiological technologists in Puerto Rico who continue to be deprived of aid and are highly exposed to the coronavirus in public and private hospitals.
The protest lasted until after 11:00 a.m. without major conflicts. Like these professionals, nurses in the private sector also insist that they be paid the incentive and they demand explanations from the Executive.
In fact, last week it was announced that the disbursement of the $4,000 incentive for public sector nurses would begin, and it was indicated that the private sector would have to wait later this week to access a link from the Department of the Treasury, or Hacienda to provide their account information. Private sector nurses have also led protests demanding justice for wages and the incentive La Fortaleza assigned for the pandemic.