The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services on Monday confirmed the first death of a corrections officer related to complications brought on by COVID-19.
According to a news release from AFSCME Council 3, the public employee union, the officer died on June 8.
“Our heart goes out to our union sister’s family and loved ones,” said AFSCME Council 3 President Patrick Moran in a statement.
The department declined to name the individual but described her as a “well-respected 20-year veteran correctional officer” in her 60s who was assigned to a Baltimore City facility.
“DPSCS extends condolences and sympathy to the employee’s loved ones,” the department wrote in a statement.
As of June 1, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services reported 507 cases across the department among inmates, corrections officers and department staff. More than half of those infections were seen in corrections officers.
According to AFSCME’s news release, the department had struggled to keep its staffing levels up before the onset of the pandemic in March, leaving many to work “mandatory overtime.”
The union says that Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) needs to provide adequate funding for personal protective equipment and other supplies for frontline workers in congregate care facilities.
“The Hogan administration bares a tremendous amount of responsibility for this loss of life,” said Moran, adding that for the first few weeks of the pandemic workers in state corrections and health agencies were not allowed to wear masks.
Per a Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services daily operational report update from March 23, facility staff members were “strictly prohibited from reporting to work wearing a mask.”
A letter from Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Robert Green to the House Judiciary and Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in early April said that since March 30, all corrections staff have been provided masks.
Additionally, Hogan ordered universal testing for all Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services facilities staff and inmates on May 20.
“They are continually putting our members and by extension the public at risk,” Moran said.
The Maryland Senate Finance and House Appropriations committees are set to hear from frontline workers and department secretaries concerning the state’s response to the public health emergency Tuesday afternoon. One of the topics will be availability of protective personal equipment for state employees.
“To this day there are departments and institutions that still have not addressed many of the basics steps that need to happen in order for the state to successfully take on this pandemic and ensure the safety of state employees and those that they serve,” Moran said.