Opinion: Public Safety or Profits — It Shouldn’t Be a Hard Choice

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Save lives, worry about funds later.

In times of emergency, this statement has been a guiding principle for me throughout my career, whether as a Naval officer, City Council member or pediatrician who works in an emergency department. That is why it is beyond belief that some public servants/politicians are making decisions that prioritize profits over public safety.

I have spent the last two weeks working in a coronavirus screening tent outside the emergency department and I work inside with patients. What I have witnessed has no precedent and we need to focus our efforts on safely screening and treating as many people as possible and protecting ourselves while doing so.

Rockville City Councilmember David Myles.

It is no secret that our city, like many municipalities, is making tough budgetary decisions given the looming recession. Despite being mandated to pass a balanced budget coupled with the inability to “print money” as can be done at the federal level, we will continue to prioritize the health and safety of our residents. In this way, I think of my role on the City Council akin to my work in the emergency department: save lives now, figure out financing later.

Saving lives means protecting all of us from the social, economic and health disruptions left in the wake of COVID-19’s carnage. So while there is no hard choice between public safety and profits, the difficulty derives from how we move forward and, we hope, learn from this terrible scourge.

First, this pandemic has laid bare the need for the implementation of mandatory paid sick leave for every worker. This is how we protect the front line of response which includes food transport/distribution/preparation, health care and transit workers.

Having the security of paid  sick leave is how we avoid having our frontline workers feeling the need to work despite being sick with a “cold,” or worse, COVID-19. It also sends the message to our workers that we support them making the right decision on behalf of themselves and the public.

Second, we must implement a living wage. In a matter of days, millions of people have lost jobs and have very little personal savings. By implementing a livable wage we provide the financial security to take time off work without worrying about how to “pay” for the need preserve one’s (and the public’s) health.

Finally, it is paramount that everyone has access to health care. I have learned that there are people foregoing coronavirus testing because they are not insured and do not have money to cover the accompanying fees. People who have no or limited health care coverage often delay seeking care until it is too late. Lacking adequate health care is unacceptable because it places everyone, including the insured, at risk.

In these difficult times, I remember my grandfather’s adage, “you can’t take money with you after you die.” This wisdom takes on elevated moral relevance in this moment of crisis.

We need to invest now in saving lives, protecting workers, ensuring a living wage and expanding access to healthcare. That is how, together, we beat this pandemic and make our society healthier, more just and stronger than before.

— DAVID MYLES

The writer is a pediatrician at Holy Cross Hospital and a Rockville City Council member.