Alexander Andriulli for SEIU 1199NE

HARTFORD, CT — A union representing nursing home and home care workers stood outside the Department of Public Health Thursday and called for Barbara Cass to be fired.

Cass a nurse who is in charge of the unit that inspects nursing homes and she made a comment in April when PPE was still hard to come by that if the nursing home workers are wearing garbage bags that’s their “preference.”

Members of SEIU Healthcare 1199 said Cass regularly ignored worker demands for PPE and the comment that it was a “preference” to wear a garbage bag was proof of systematic racism against the largely black and brown caregivers.

Gov. Ned Lamont defended Cass.

“She inherited this job right in the middle of pandemic,” Lamont said. “She did everything she could to keep them inspected and make sure they’re following the protocols.”

Lamont said Cass has operated “heroically,” during these past few months.

Acting Public Health Commissioner Deidre Gifford said she understands the concerns of the nursing home workers, but the state is doing everything it can to make sure the private nursing home operators are acting appropriately to reduce the infection rate.

Gifford said there have been more than 1,000 inspections of the 215 nursing homes in the state. That means each home received more than one inspection over the past three months.

In late April, Cass said when they visit the nursing homes they will look at purchase orders for the PPE and they follow up on every call they receive.

“It’s important for us to do a deep dive to ensure there is PPE,” Cass said. “PPE is essential in controlling the incidents of this infection.”

Gifford said Cass has been an integral part of making sure the nursing homes have enough PPE and can limit the spread of infection, which requires adequate PPE and testing.

“She has also been instrumental in setting up our COVID recovery facilities,” Gifford said Thursday.

Gifford applauded the “heroic” work of the nursing home workers, but added that the “state Department of Public Health supports Barbara Cass 100%.”

As of June 23 there have been 2,738 nursing home deaths in Connecticut related to COVID-19—that’s over 64% of all COVID deaths in the state.

Beyond demanding that Cass be removed from DPH, the union is demanding that the state implement regulations allowing long-term care workers who witness unsafe conditions on the job or know about workplace coronavirus exposure to be able to openly identify their concerns and have them addressed, without fear of retaliation.

They also said the home care waiver programs should not undermine the right of Personal Care Assistants or PCAs to work safely. PCAs in home care also deserve the ability to report unsafe working conditions and all long-term care workers deserve to be treated like experts in their field of work. PCAs have not had good access to PPE.