Tampa Bay nurses union plans Wednesday vigil for co-workers who died from COVID-19

The remembrance happens in downtown Tampa’s Channelside neighborhood.

Tampa Bay nurses with National Nurses United (NNU), the largest union of registered nurses in the United States, will hold a candlelight vigil on Wednesday night in recognition of National Nurses Week and to honor the lives of nurses who have died due to COVID-19 in the last year.

“Due to employer and government failures to provide optimal [personal protective equipment] PPE and follow proper infection control practices to protect frontline health care workers, NNU is reporting that more than 400 nurses nationwide have died to date of Covid-19,” the union wrote in a press release.

At least 23 of their recorded nurse fatalities occurred in Florida, the union says, although they say this is likely an underestimate, with data collected only through social media, obituaries, and media reports.

Pulling information from NNU data and reporting from the Tampa Bay Times, at least six nurses who lost their lives to COVID-19 were local to Tampa Bay:

  • Abby Andres, 62, of Largo
  • Diane Jones, 57, of Tampa
  • Steven Neher, 49, of Tampa
  • Barbara Langburt, 43, of St. Petersburg
  • Elizabeth Motzenbecker, 61, of Venice
  • Marjorie Blackman, 67, of Seminole

Twelve of the Florida nurses in the NNU database were under the age of 60 at the time of their deaths. Two nurses, James White of Lake City, and Miguel Martinez of Fort Myers, were in their 20s.

The Tampa vigil, which coincides with International Nurses Day and the birthday of Florence Nightingale, will be held at 9 p.m. EST, with additional vigils planned in eight other cities nationwide, including Chicago, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles.

National Nurses Week ends on May 12; the socially-distanced vigil is at 1331 McKay St. near Port Tampa Bay.

Registered nurse Marilena Santana of St. Petersburg General will be speaking at the event, with a virtual viewing option available on Zoom for those who cannot attend the vigil in person.

While publicly lauded as healthcare heroes throughout the pandemic, local nurses at healthcare facilities across Tampa Bay came out on multiple occasions over the last year to protest unsafe working conditions in their workplaces, citing issues such as understaffing, lack of access to personal protective equipment (PPE), and a failure of their employer, the Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), to notify medical staff of confirmed exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.

Last August, the national nurses union filed an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) complaint against HCA, one of the largest for-profit hospital systems in the country, for “gravely dangerous working conditions” at their healthcare facilities— including Oak Hill Hospital of Brooksville and seven other HCA hospitals and medical centers in the Tampa Bay area.

HCA Healthcare, which reaped an astounding $14.3 billion in fourth-quarter revenues last year—from $13.5 billion in 2019—owns 15 Florida hospitals along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Many nurses at local HCA facilities—including Largo Medical Center, Blake Medical Center, Oak Hill Hospital, St. Petersburg General, and Trinity Medical Center—are represented by National Nurses United, which has more than 170,000 members nationwide.

“These are our colleagues and friends, the hardworking nurses who spent each and every day protecting and caring for patients, even during a deadly pandemic. They made the ultimate sacrifice, and we promise to never forget them, but honor them as we continue fighting to protect the living,” said Bonnie Castillo, a registered nurse and the Executive Director of NNU.

According to a joint project from The Guardian and Kaiser Health News, nurses made up 32% of the 3,067 U.S. healthcare worker deaths the project tracked during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 200 of these deaths occurred in Florida.

“We are honoring our sisters and brothers, our siblings, who have fallen due to this deadly pandemic,” said Jean Ross, a registered nurse and president of NNU, in a separate press release for a vigil planned in Washington D.C. “We take this moment to celebrate the lives of these frontline workers, and promise to fight for improved working conditions to prevent these losses from happening again. One loss is too many.”

UPDATED: 05/11/21 4:11 p.m. Updated to show at least 23 recorded nurse fatalities occurred in Florida.

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About The Author

McKenna Schueler

McKenna Schueler is a freelance journalist based in Tampa, Florida. She regularly writes about labor, politics, policing, and behavioral health. You can find her on Twitter at @SheCarriesOn and send news tips to [email protected].

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