Commissioner Nikki Fried Hosts Healthcare Roundtable with Frontline Workers

Jul 24, 2020

Tallahassee, Fla. — Today, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, an independently-elected member of the Florida Cabinet, hosted a virtual roundtable with frontline healthcare workers on Florida’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commissioner Fried was joined by Dr. Ron Saff, Board Member of Florida Physicians for Social Responsibility; Dr. Mona Mangat, former National Board Chair of Doctors for America; Roxey Nelson, Vice President of SEIU 1199 United Healthcare Workers East; Patricia Diaz, a Registered Nurse from Broward County; Barbara Johnson, a Registered Nurse from Palm Beach County; Linda Exantus, an Emergency Room Technician from Miami-Dade County; Alicia Ciliezar, a Registered Nurse from Miami-Dade County; and Kristina Hernandez, a Laboratory Medical Technologist from Pinellas County.

Commissioner Nikki Fried

Fried and the participants discussed what Florida’s leaders must do to properly manage the COVID-19 public health crisis, of which Florida is now the epicenter in the United States. Florida recently recorded the nation’s highest one-day total of new COVID-19 cases, and the state’s cases, deaths, hospitalizations, and ICU usage continue to rise.

“COVID-19 is a public health crisis unlike any we’ve ever faced. Let me be clear: COVID-19 is no one’s fault — but it’s no secret I’ve been critical of the Governor’s response,” said Commissioner Fried. “True leadership means making tough calls when it matters most, which is why I’ve called on the Governor to issue a statewide mask order earlier this month. As the on-the-ground voices of this pandemic, our frontline health workers deserve to be respected and listened to — and that is what we’re here to do today.”

“Countries like Rwanda and Ethiopia have mask mandates, yet Florida does not — I think is a crying shame,” said Dr. Ron Saff, Board Member of Florida Physicians for Social Responsibility. “The Governor’s own handpicked Surgeon General advocates wearing masks in public. The Florida Medical Association, representing tens of thousands of Florida physicians, also recommend that everyone wear a mask when in public. Just think about the amount of Floridians in hospitals and intensive care units because the Governor has failed to enact a mask mandate.”

“As a physician, I am appalled at the current situation, not just in the state, but the nation. In the midst of this global pandemic with no end in sight, our elected officials, Governor DeSantis, and the President, are acting like everything is fine – but everything is not fine,” said Dr. Mona Mangat, former National Board Chair of Doctors for America. “We still don’t have enough PPE. The data that is coming out of the state and the nation, there is a lot of mistrust because of the secrecy around it. There is no national strategy to combat this pandemic, and it is a failure of leadership on so many levels. My hope is that we can finally have leadership in Tallahassee and in Washington that puts science behind all public policy.”

“They call us heroes, but staffing three nurses and two techs in a 30-room emergency room is cruel. Mandating that we wear a soiled mask for multiple shifts before providing another one is cruel. Requiring frontline workers and ICU nurses to work overtime before giving us crumbs of pay is cruel. Not providing easy testing options for frontline workers, and having to wait three weeks before I, or anyone, can kiss our children is cruel,” said Linda Exantus, an Emergency Room Technician from Miami-Dade County. “You call us heroes, but is this how you treat your heroes?”

“PPE shortages are real, we’re not being provided with everything we need to be caring for these patients,” said Alicia Ciliezar, a Registered Nurse from Miami-Dade County. “I would welcome any figure in leadership right now to take a tour of the intensive care unit, and then tell me whether or not if it should be a discussion — masks should be mandated right now.”

Commissioner Fried first called for a statewide stay-at-home order in March, first called for a statewide mask order earlier this month, has called for greater transparency on COVID-19 public health data, and has called for PPE and healthcare to be provided for vulnerable populations like farmworkers.

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