Throughout this COVID-19 process and the ensuing “Stay Healthy at Home” order, Mainers have learned a lot about the abilities of themselves, their communities, and their government.

One thing Mainers already knew, was the tireless service of our world-class medical professionals. For as long as we can remember, we’ve all been witness to them serving our elderly, the immunocompromised and the disabled every single day.

Now, during this global pandemic, our medical personnel are not only first responders, they are also soldiers on the frontline of an invisible battlefield. While we anxiously await at home, planning our own versions of “victory gardens,” doctors, nurses, therapists, and others are caring for those who have fallen ill to a virus we barely even understand. Their selfless service to our communities rivals that of our brave men and women who are currently serving overseas — and they should be treated similarly when they fall ill.

While deployed, if a soldier falls ill or is injured on the battlefield and is rushed off the frontlines to recover, they are never asked to use their own sick or vacation time while they recover. If there was ever a report of this happening at Walter Reed or Landstuhl medical facilities, there would be national outrage — and rightly so.

So why are we allowing our medical professionals to be treated differently? They’ve put themselves in harm’s way, and if they contract this virus, they are mandated by law to quarantine. Therefore, they’ve been temporarily removed from the frontlines. Having them use their own sick and vacation time to recover, while their neighbors accrue their own time, is immoral. This has to change.

As first-term legislators, we are used to getting phone calls from the friends and neighbors that we serve and for whom we work. Sometimes we can help folks by making a phone call or two, or getting them the information they need to address the problem they’ve identified. Other calls can be much harder to handle and it is particularly frustrating when we cannot help them in a way that feels right and just.

Recently, we have both received calls from dedicated medical professionals who are on the frontlines fighting the COVID-19 virus. They are heroes. They are protecting all of us, not just the patients in their care. Therefore, we were deeply concerned when we heard from these fine people, who are doing their jobs under very dangerous conditions, that some are being required to use their sick or vacation time while they are ordered to quarantine after they themselves become infected by this dreaded virus. We both know that is simply unacceptable, yet we are unable to provide these heroes with any solace. It’s incredibly frustrating.

Very recently, news broke of an outbreak at the Augusta Center for Health and Rehabilitation long-term care facility. A staggering number of those cases were the staff members themselves. There have been initial reports that at least some of those employees will have to use their own paid time off to recover. This is not the way to treat people who have become sick by doing their job. We do not feel right telling these dedicated professionals, “We are sorry we cannot help you, maybe you should contact an attorney and file a claim for workers compensation.”

Having our doctors, nurses, and therapists drain their paid time off during this crisis may best serve their employers’ bean counters right now, but it will directly translate to a battle fatigued industry once we return back to normal. The U.S. military quickly realized this at the turn of the century and we should learn from their mistakes.

This isn’t designed to place blame at any singular group or entity. It’s simply a plea to Congress, the state Legislature, and our medical and business leaders to never lose sight of those we should protect the most: the sick, the vulnerable, as well as those who care for them.

Justin Fecteau of Augusta is a Republican state representative. Thom Harnett of Gardiner is a Democratic state representative.


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