Don't forget essential workers


EDITOR’S NOTE: Carole Mantell in Nassau County’s East Meadow lost her husband, Bill — a pharmacist — to complications related to COVID-19. The following is a letter she wrote to Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushing for more personal protective equipment for essential employees like her husband.

Dear Gov. Cuomo:

I am writing to share the story of my husband, William Mantell, who died from COVID-related pneumonia on April 17.

Bill was a health care worker on the front lines. He wasn’t a nurse or physician working in a hospital, but a pharmacist at a small community pharmacy he owned for 31 years in Rochdale Village.

As you know, retail pharmacies are deemed essential businesses by New York state, and are expected to remain open. Bill did as he was instructed. His exposure to the public was not optional, and he kept his pharmacy running to serve his patients and community.

Within the first week of the crisis, he sold out of hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, disinfectant sprays, masks, gloves, alcohol, thermometers and Tylenol. There were no cleaning supplies left on the shelves, and it was becoming nearly impossible to replenish those items.

Not only did Bill have limited product to sell to his patients and customers, but also there were very few supplies to clean the pharmacy with. And he had zero personal protective equipment to keep himself and his employees safe.

Bill was running a small business, and he wasn’t in a position to quickly install plastic barriers at cash registers and protective measures throughout the store that large corporate pharmacies had the resources to do.

In the beginning of this crisis, I was glued to the news. I had heard new stories about the nurses and physicians in hospitals who were begging for personal protective equipment to protect themselves.

I listened to your news conferences in which you asked President Trump for help obtaining equipment and personal protective equipment for those on the front lines in hospitals.

I don’t recall the push for personal protective equipment for the workers on the front lines who were not in hospitals: the retail pharmacists, delivery people, grocery store employees, and workers in essential factories. If New York state was having difficulty procuring these items, how were small businesses supposed to?

I feel like my husband was left to fend for himself. If Bill had the personal protective equipment earlier, would it have changed his outcome?

I want to bring to your attention the difficulty Bill went through to try to have a COVID-19 test scheduled. He called the testing hotline on March 28, and was told someone would get back to him in two days.

Two days later, he called again, and was reassured he was “still on the list.”

Three-and-a-half weeks later, on April 22, the New York State Department of Health called to schedule a test.

This was five days after he died.

Is it acceptable to have a person who is sick wait almost a month for a test? Why wasn’t his personal physician allowed to order a test? How did those waiting on lines at the drive-thru sites have their tests scheduled?

If Bill had been tested and treated earlier, would it have changed his outcome?

It was extremely difficult for my family and me (and I am sure for every other family who has a sick loved one) to know that Bill was in the hospital suffering alone, with no family or friends by his side to support him.

I understand the reasons why, and I understand that the nurses have such a high patient load that they are often unable to extend the extra human elements they normally give those in their care.

I know Bill was anxious, scared and exhausted trying to take care of his needs on his own. If even one family member was allowed at their own risk — gowned from head to toe — to be there with him, to ensure that he laid on his stomach, did his breathing exercises, helped with the side effects caused by his medications, and let him know that he wasn’t alone, would it have changed his outcome?

My story is one of nearly 17,000 in New York state. I am helpless in a time when there is so much uncertainty in the world. I have love my best friend, and my daughters have lost their father.

I am calling on you, Gov. Cuomo, to continue leading our state through this challenging time. Small businesses on the front lines need personal protective equipment to safely serve people during this pandemic, and our loved ones need someone by their side to fight and survive.

In loving memory of my husband, Bill.

Carole Mantell

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Carole Mantell,