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In viral PSAs, New Mexico health care workers urge mask use, vaccinations

By Cyndy Hernandez and Mark McCullough ·

New Mexico's COVID cases and deaths are rising, and hospitals across the state continue to be under severe strain. Many hospitals are nearly full, stressing out an already exhausted health care workforce, even as President Joe Biden works hard to fix the Trump administration’s botched vaccine rollout plan.

To encourage their neighbors to continue to do their part to battle the coronavirus, members of National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees (NUHHCE)/AFSCME District 1199NM, produced a series of public service announcements, recorded at work after a 12-hour shift on the COVID-19 unit.

Little did they know the videos would go viral.

The videos have been promoted through Facebook, shared by elected officials and covered by New Mexico media, including every TV network affiliate.

The videos, all of which can be viewed on the district’s YouTube page, urge people to stay healthy by wearing masks and taking the COVID-19 vaccine when they are able to. 

“These health care members wanted to make these PSAs to show how the pandemic is taking a toll on our health care system,” said Delma DeLora, district president of 1199NM. “Health care professionals are going above and beyond to ensure every New Mexican gets quality, compassionate care. But as a community, we all need to do our part in slowing the spread of this virus by wearing masks, maintaining social distance with people outside our immediate households, and getting the vaccine when it becomes available to you.”

For Suzanne Bell, a registered nurse at the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, the pandemic marked a rough start to her new position in the intensive care unit. She started there in March, just as the pandemic hit.

Participating in the video series actually has helped her reconnect with friends outside of work.

“I’ve basically only kept in touch with people through text because of COVID and the long hours I work, so it has been hard to have a real conversation until I shared the videos,” said Bell. “After watching them, people are calling me and thanking me for doing this work … and now they feel they understand a bit better how hard this all is. And that has really meant a lot to me.”

And it has deepened Bell’s appreciation for the union.

“I’ve always known that our union is strong but this past year just really has brought it home,” she said. “They have been there for us on the job. And then to step up and help us tell our stories so that we can do whatever it takes to beat this thing shows that being in a union is not just about pay and money, it is about your whole well-being.”

For Nick Armijo, a critical care nurse at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe, there was no question he would participate in the videos when asked. After starting as a housekeeper, he worked his way up with the help and support of his union and felt it was one way he could give back.

“For me, the video is really like my own spiritual journey dealing with COVID and I wanted to get that across,” Armijo said. “I’m from here, I’m a runner. So people see me as around town. I really wanted to put some local perspective on them.”

Armijo says he has been humbled by the comments and feedback he has gotten on the videos. He is quick to point out that he wants people to understand he doesn’t want to see them at work.

“If I see you at work that means you have COVID and are in a bad spot. Stay safe, do the right thing and get the vaccine when you can, so when we see each other we are not talking about if I should put you on a ventilator,” Armijo said. “I have hope, I really do, but I’m ready for this to be over.”

Going Viral

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