by Sally James
Jane Hopkins, RN (a registered nurse) is bringing a little of Kent, a little of Bothell, a little of Woodinville, and some First Hill to her new appointment by the Biden transition team to a national COVID-19 advisory panel. Growing up in Sierra Leone, Hopkins says she did not experience the kind of racism that is typical for Blacks in the United States. She moved to London at age 13 and received her mental health nursing education there before arriving in Seattle in 2000. She has three adult children and a 3-year-old grandson. Her husband is a small-business owner. The family has lived in Kent, Bothell, and now is in Woodinville.
She’s also bringing to her new role experience as an immigrant, an African American nurse, and a union executive. Perhaps most crucial is that she believes she listens to and hears what is bothering people in health care settings and can help ground the panel in the reality of worker worries.
Hopkins spoke to the Emerald about joining the national panel, giving pandemic advice to policy makers, as well as bringing her Pacific Northwest and African roots with her to the other Washington. “I really feel that the identity I bring is all the health care workers in the hospital,” she said. “I really respect the person that’s cleaning the floor. I respect the dietary worker. I respect the person doing the X-rays. I feel that because we are a team looking after a patient. I bring that perspective of that whole team.”
Hopkins describes herself as a person “without a whole lot of letters after my name.” But she knows what is being talked about at the proverbial water cooler.
This veteran nurse, who worked on many different acute-care units at Harborview Medical Center, the region’s top Level 1 trauma center, thinks of medical personnel beyond just nurses and doctors. She includes the often unseen members of the health team. Hopkins was elected to executive vice president of the SEIU 1199 union in 2016. The union represents about 30,000 hospital and clinic workers.
She hopes union perspectives will play a significant role as challenges keep unfolding across the country. One of those challenges is staffing and having enough qualified people to keep hospitals open. She criticized the CARES Act for exempting healthcare organizations from the policy requiring employers to pay for leave when a worker has to go into quarantine. Part of the problem: If a worker uses up all their paid sick time, what will they do if a different family emergency arises?
“A lot of health workers have ended up without any leave [left] on their books because of COVID-19. They get exposed and then they go home to quarantine without pay and have to use sick leave. We’ve been trying to work with employers to get them to pay for quarantine time,” Hopkins explained.
She emphasized that her role on the Biden-Harris panel will be as part of a large advisory council that makes recommendations but doesn’t set policy. Now that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, one of several being developed, has received the Federal Drug Administration’s Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) and is already being distributed to first-line medical responders, Hopkins hopes the panel can recommend ways to make people feel safe and encouraged to receive a vaccine, without mandates.
While she believes in the value of vaccination, and wishes to get it for herself, she does not believe hospitals should make a COVID-19 vaccine mandatory as a condition of employment.
“There is an awareness out there that there is hesitancy in taking the vaccine,” she said. While she believes the science is clear, she feels that every person has to come to a decision on their own.
“I think people are smart. They know, if they trust the science, that they will take the shot. So, it is really about the science,” she said.
Hopkins has served on two Washington State panels related to COVID-19, both created by Governor Jay Inslee: one for the State’s emergency response to the pandemic, headed by retired Navy Admiral Raquel Bono, and a second called Safe Start, with an emphasis on listening to communities in regard to the pandemic.
Adding the national panel duties on top of her full-time work makes for a lot of meetings and a lot of scheduling. She laughed when asked about the workload.
“We are working on that,” she said.
Sally James is a Seattle-based science reporter.