Laid-Off Puerto Rican Nurse Is Treated Like a Hero in NJ

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By Mivette Vega

May 8, 2020

In just a matter of days, José Santiago had to move and start a new life after losing his job in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a blink of an eye, José “Joy” Santiago found a new job and moved into a new city.

Even as the coronavirus pandemic was making its way to Puerto Rico, on March 27 the nurse was laid off from Fresenius Medical Care in San Juan.

In a matter of days, Santiago found a job in New Jersey, with a much better salary and improved working conditions. Now he and eight more Puerto Rican nurses work at CareOne Assisted Living and Health Care Community. All of them live in a nearby hotel.

RELATED: 400 Healthcare Professionals Have Lost Jobs During This Coronavirus Crisis

“It has been gratifying to help people of different backgrounds, people you don’t know. Sometimes emotions come into play when you are helping your country. Since we arrived here, we have been received as heroes, with a lot of gratitude,” Santiago says.

For the nurse, leaving Puerto Rico and his parents, José and Nitza, during an emergency was heartbreaking.

“I was fired unfairly, and I am seeking legal advice to see what options I have. I’m here as a consequence of the damage. Four more days and I would have completed my probation period in Puerto Rico. It was very frustrating. My evaluations were always outstanding,” Santiago says.

With his new employer, Santiago has a three-month contract. Since the first day, he has noticed a very different way of doing things, compared to Puerto Rico.

“The difference is markedly noticeable. For example, the number of patients per nurse is different. In a Puerto Rico hospital, you can have about 25 to 30 patients to tend to, and here you have 16 patients at the most. The work is not as hard,” the recent hire explains.

Santiago also noticed a difference in the relationship between patients and nurses. He is used to having a warmer interaction with his patients. In this new job, there is more distance.

“The center uses techniques that are inadequate. There is a lot of cross-contamination. Some patients who have COVID-19 are with others who don’t. It shocked us because we are used to other ways of doing things,” Santiago says.

An Uncertain Future

The nurse doesn’t know what he’ll do when his contract ends in June. Because of the coronavirus emergency, there is no impediment to practicing his profession in New Jersey. When things return to normal, he and all of the Puerto Ricans nurses should have nursing licenses from New Jersey.

“For now my priority is to fulfill the contract satisfactorily. Finish this as healthy as possible and be able to go back and hug my parents, whom I love the most.”

Santiago and his colleagues feel frustrated to know how medical professionals are losing their jobs in Puerto Rico, in the midst of a pandemic. They say doctors and nurses are leaving the island, searching for better opportunities.

RELATED: 2,000 Hospital Employees Are About to Lose Their Jobs in Puerto Rico

Working conditions in Puerto Rico are hard. The president of the island’s College of Nursing Professionals, Ana Cristina García Cintrón, recently said that many health professionals are not getting the necessary protection at work. There are approximately 38,000 nurses in the country.

Santiago blames the government for not giving health professionals economic incentives.

“It has all come to nothing. They have not said when the incentives will be, how they will be requested, or what the requirements are. The government really doesn’t want to help with anything,” Santiago explains.

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