WVVA (Beckley/Bluefield): Petsonk featured as legal expert on workers' rights during COVID-19

Amid nationwide shortage, Southern W.Va. health care providers use protective equipment with caution

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BECKLEY, W.Va. (WVVA) Across the nation, there are stories of health care systems strained -- medical professionals on the front lines without adequate protection and many having to reuse masks and gloves.

How is that fight for protective equipment playing out in Southern West Virginia?

At one of the major testing sites at the Boy Scout Jamboree Welcome Center in Mount Hope on Tuesday, Fayette County Health Dept. Administrator Teri Harlan said the county doing okay, but has a task force working to find more.

"We still have a shortage. But at least we have some good leads at this time to get additional equipment."

In Raleigh County, Beckley Appalachian Regional Hospital (BARH) CEO Rocco Massey said their mask supply is solid, but on allotment.

"As you can see, we have an inventory. This is not about a shortage. We have what we need to do our work. For us, it's about appropriate utilization of the PPEs."

For those across Southern W.Va. who do not feel they have appropriate protective equipment, public interest lawyer Sam Petsonk wants workers to know they have rights.

"Those workers, when they go in a group to their manager, have protections under federal labor law from retaliation or recrimination from making that demand."

Petsonk said they also have the right not to work if they feel their safety is threatened.

"The judgement should be in the hands of those with the greatest knowledge; those on the front lines: the nurses, the doctors. They know the risk tolerances that are appropriate for them. That's why federal labor law places that power in their hands collectively to draw and line and refuse to do what they feel is unsafe in their professional duty."

During Gov. Jim Justice's press conference on Tuesday, he said some supplies needed across the state arrived on Tuesday and are being shipped out to health care providers.

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