As coronavirus (covid-19) turns into a global pandemic, Miami-Dade County Commissioners made a decision on February 12th to delay a policy proposal that is crucial to stemming the spread of this virus. As doctors, the techniques we rely upon to stop the spread of this virus and other global diseases are basic - frequent handwashing, staying home from work when sick and quarantining potential cases. Yet, in refusing to vote on a proposal for Paid Sick Leave, the Miami-Dade County Commission left us all more vulnerable to dangerous infections.
A recent proposal for paid sick and parental leave, introduced by County Commissioner Daniella Levine-Cava, would ensure at least 7 days of paid sick leave for employees of certain companies that contract with the county. This proposal would apply to companies with at least 15 employees and county contracts greater than $100,000.
County employees already benefit from paid sick leave, which is based in public health science and basic decency. At the February Miami-Dade County Commission hearing, we had the opportunity to testify as representatives of our union, the Committee of Interns and Residents, alongside union organizers and workers currently denied paid sick leave. We were ashamed that our elected officials cut each person's speaking time to just one minute and then subsequently derided this proposal that uplifts human rights and public health.
As doctors, every day we see the harmful effects of workers denied sick leave. We are reminded of the mother of our six year-old patient just diagnosed with cancer, who was concerned about being able to take her son to weekly follow-up appointments for his cancer treatments. Missing work might risk losing her job and losing the insurance paying for her son's life-saving treatments.
We think of our young patient in his thirties who frequently misses appointments in the clinic for his diabetes because missing work might mean losing the job that enables him to provide for his family. However, in being unable to care for his health, he is risking far graver complications from poorly controlled diabetes to premature death.
From our patients that bring their sick children to the Emergency Department in the middle of the night because they could not miss time from work to those who are unable to care for themselves or sick parents in times of serious illness, we see the toll that a lack of paid sick leave plays on our patients and their families.
This is not just a personal issue; it is one vital to our economy and to the public health of our communities. Research shows that people without paid sick days are 1.5 times more likely than those with paid sick days to report going to work with a contagious illness like the flu or a viral infection. Working parents without paid sick days are nearly twice as likely to send a sick child to school or daycare. As a result, they are forced to put the health of their children, their children’s classmates and teachers at risk. And jobs with super-spreader potential like food service and child care are the least likely to have sick leave.
For business owners, having sick employees present for work is costly. Coworkers and clients are infected and morale decreases. After paid sick leave was implemented in Connecticut, New York City and multiple cities in New Jersey, unemployment declined. With paid sick leave productivity improves and employment turnover decreases. Over a year after implementation, despite early fears and concerns, the vast majority of New York business owners supported paid sick leave and reported there were no ill effects on their overall business costs. And a study published by the CDC estimates between 2007 and 2014, $1.8 billion a year from illness associated absenteeism could have been saved had paid sick leave been provided.
Paid sick and family leave is good for our patients, our communities and our economy. It would allow our diabetic patient the needed time to care for his illness so he can see his kids graduate high school. It would enable our young patient’s mother the ability to keep her job as she cares for her son with cancer. And it would prevent all of us from facing higher risks of contracting infectious diseases, like the deadly Coronavirus spreading the globe. We encourage our elected commissioners to consider more seriously the necessity of this humane and life-saving proposal.
Dr. Lily Ostrer, PGY-2 Internal Medicine-Pediatrics Resident Physician and member of the Committee of Interns and Residents/SEIU. Dr. Daniel Meza is a Pediatric Attending Physician.