Martha Baker: Stand by our health care heroes, vote no on Senate Bill 84
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nurse hospital coronavirus
Numbers do not tell the full story.

It has been one year since Jackson Hospital saw its first COVID-19 patient. It’s been one year of the nurses, doctors, and health care professionals of SEIU 1991 at Jackson holding the hands of the sick and dying. It’s been one year of helping the 5,360 COVID-19 survivors breathe easier.

It’s been one year since 977 lives were claimed by this invisible enemy.

It’s been 365 days of learning everything we can about this virus. We now have three vaccines available to the public and we have vaccinated more than 123,000 people at Jackson over the past three months. These numbers represent the thousands of front line health care workers who have stood by our community here in Miami, making sure every single resident received the care they needed. No matter their race, ethnic background, religion, or political affiliation, front line workers made a major difference in the fight against this global pandemic.

We’ve lived our lives in numbers over the past year. Number of patients, number of deaths, number of jobs lost, or businesses closed. Yet, these numbers do not tell the full story. They don’t tell you about the Jackson nurse who went from patient to patient to help them FaceTime their loved ones. They don’t tell you about the emergency room doctor who slept outside after his shifts so he wouldn’t put his family at risk. They don’t tell you what dying from COVID-19 sounds like.

We have stood by helping our community fight this virus. We have done our job while others have made massive health care decisions for our state. We have urged residents to practice health safety measures, wear a mask, and stay vigilant. We have answered the call and we will do it again, because that is what we do as health care workers.

Today we are asking, urging state leaders to stand by our side the way we have stood by them.

Right now, our long-term livelihood is on the line. Senate Bill 84 would force our health care heroes into a retirement plan not of their choosing; force them to accept a less stable economic future. The current retirement system is favored by our front line workers. More than 91% of the nurses, doctors, and health care professionals say the retirement system was a top reason they choose to work at Jackson Hospital and more than 75% say they would be less likely to stay at Jackson if the current benefit system was eliminated.

During the opening day of Session, Senate President Wilton Simpson said of our front line workers: “We must do everything we can to protect these heroes.” And, Gov. Ron DeSantis said, “We thank the health care professionals throughout Florida who cared for those who became ill due to COVID.”

We couldn’t agree more. But, we need every state lawmaker to stand behind these words

We know these are tough times and tough decisions need to be made. The Florida Retirement System pension plan is the fourth largest plan in the United States. Members of this system are not only health care heroes, but first responders, teachers, and other essential workers who have put their safety second to help us through this difficult year. Florida’s pension plan is considered a top plan nationally, too. Moodys Investors Service ranked Florida one of the lowest when it comes to “unfunded liabilities,” the villain state lawmakers are pointing to in order to justify the change in the system. The bottom line? Florida is a leader when it comes to affording our pension liabilities. The bottom line? There is little justification for getting rid of a system that allows economic freedom and is fiscally sound.

We often hear lawmakers in Tallahassee talk a lot about bringing new people to our state, but we need to take care of those right in here in our backyard. That is what putting Florida first really means. We URGE every state legislator to vote no on Senate Bill 84.

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Martha Baker is a registered nurse and the president of SEIU 1991 the nurses, doctors, and health care professionals at Jackson Hospital. She is a 40-year health care veteran and has advocated for health care professionals her entire career.

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