March 6, 2021

Doctors urge lawmakers to pass Healthy Workplaces bill

During a press conference on Friday, two New Mexico doctors urged the state senate and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to support the Healthy Workplaces bill during a press conference on Friday.

HB 20 passed the House 36 to 33 after a three-hour debate on Sunday. Republicans, all of whom voted against it, largely argued the bill would hurt small businesses in New Mexico. Eight Democrats also voted against the bill.

Related: Bill to mandate paid sick leave passes House

If passed and signed into law, HB 20 would allow all private employees working in the state to earn up to eight days of paid sick leave per year. An employee would earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked whether part-time or management. Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, is the lead sponsor of the bill.

Dr. Robert Ferraro, an endocrinologist based in Artesia and Dr. Kathleen Gresh, a retired pediatrician in Santa Fe, spoke during a virtual press conference hosted by the Committee to Protect Medicare. They emphasized the need for the bill during the pandemic, but also after the pandemic ends.

Ferraro said New Mexico has the highest rate of workers in the nation who lack paid sick leave. Half of New Mexico workers have no paid sick leave, he said.

Gresh said that vaccines are not currently going to children and when children contract COVID-19, they don’t always show symptoms of the disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most children who fall ill with COVID-19 have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. 

“I’m not sure the virus is going away even after the pandemic is over,” Gresh said.

The current vaccines have not had clinical trials on children, so only individuals who are 16 years or older are eligible for the vaccine. 

Both doctors also warned of the COVID-19 variants that have started to appear in different parts of the world. Gresh said at least one variant has appeared in New Mexico. Ferraro said the variants are “threatening to flare up (the virus) with mutation strains.”

Gresh said that as a pediatrician, she has had to watch parents make very difficult decisions due a lack of paid sick leave.

“From a pediatric standpoint, I see a lot of parents who have to choose between going to work or staying home with a sick child. It’s a very difficult and stressful choice to make,” she said.

Ferraro said that in his role as a physician, he manages chronic diseases. After the pandemic ends, paid sick leave will still be needed, he said.

“My patients who have diabetes become ill, they need to take time off if I tell them that’s an important part of their recovery,” he said.