A week after Denver City Council pushed off a $38.6 million federal reimbursement for the city's coronavirus emergency spending to allow more time to scrutinize the grant terms, the body greenlighted the cash transfer on Monday — but not before first readdressing what influenced the decision to delay.
More than $18.8 million of the relief dollars from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be distributed to Denver Health, whose workers are unionizing after it became public that hospital executives received bonuses — some upwards of $200,000 — one week after hospital staff were asked to take pay cuts.
“I’ve been getting multiple calls from Denver Health workers, employees who have felt like their safety and health has been jeopardized and they haven’t had an outlet to speak up,” Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca said during the Monday night council meeting.
Before the vote, CdeBaca read aloud a letter signed by a group of “dedicated bedside nurses and employees at Denver Health.” The letter detailed why workers felt “betrayed and demoralized” by hospital leadership.
“When our administration asked the front lines to make cuts and sacrifices, we assumed those cuts would be shared across the organizations,” the letter read. “We have begun to feel ever more expendable as COVID-19 lingers, claiming more lives. We are concerned not only for the outcomes of our patients, but for the first time we are concerned for our own safety.”
The group described the shortage of personal protective equipment available to them and the risks workers are having to take to treat patients.
“We can confidently inform this council that supplies and money for training are desperately needed to maintain the health of the most vulnerable members of our community as the front-line nurses,” they wrote, “… but we need Denver Health to have the support and leadership it needs.”
“This is … what we’re trying to have reimbursed by FEMA through the grant agreement that we’re passing tonight,” said CdeBaca, who was the only other member to join Councilman Chris Hinds in voting to delay funds last week. “It’s important for us to look at the many spreadsheets associated with this request and to demand continued reporting on modifications to this agreement.”
Councilwoman Jamie Torres said she appreciated the letter, which “put into words what we’ve been hearing in our district offices.”
Torres said she has seen “failure of the leadership team,” and that the incident serves as a “reminder” of the connection the council has to Denver Health: “Though we may not have the authority of their personnel decisions, we expect and demand leadership that values its workforce in our community.”
The council passed the grant agreement unanimously, opening the gate to not only reimburse Denver Health, but also the city government with $17.7 million and Denver International Airport with $2 million. The dollars will not help offset the estimated $180 million revenue loss the city is currently bracing for, city officials say.