This Texas Nurse Called Out Her Senator for Blowing Off Frontline Workers
Sheniell Granato, a nurse who was hospitalized with Covid-19, says officials still aren’t doing enough to protect health care workers
With more than 240,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus since March and about 10,000 cases in just the last week alone, Texas has become one of the country’s Covid-19 epicenters. Making matters worse, the state is experiencing a severe lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and hospital beds — a problem, says Sheniell Granato, a San Antonio-based nurse, that many frontline health care workers saw coming and tried to warn us about.
In April, Granato and other members of her nurses union scheduled what they thought would be a conference call with Senator John Cornyn to talk about their lack of hospital resources. But Granato says the senator sent a staffer in his place, and they didn’t give the nurses the time of day. “Who will help the helpers?” she wrote last week in a tweet that’s gone viral, calling out the senator for failing to take the time to listen to frontline workers and their concerns.
Granato knows firsthand how detrimental the virus can be to our health: While working in the ER at the start of the pandemic she started experiencing the telltale symptoms of Covid-19; she was later hospitalized in March after three separate attempts to get tested. Her hospital stay — and her firsthand witness of the mask shortage in her hospital — inspired Granato to help create Help the Heroes, a nonprofit providing PPE to health care workers around the U.S.
Granato caught up with GEN this week to talk about her Covid symptoms, and what the state government needs to do to help health care workers.
GEN: You were hospitalized with what you believe was Covid before launching Help the Heroes. How has the recovery been?
Sheniell Granato: I do feel much better, but there are days where I just feel really fatigued. I have headaches for no reason. We’re seeing these sky-high numbers of hospitalizations nationwide as nurses and doctors get sick. A lot of them may get over it quickly, but there are going to be a lot of them that have long-term effects and are not going to be able to go back to work right away. And then we’re going to see a health care worker shortage.
Speaking of health care worker shortages, in your tweet responding to Senator Cornyn, you seemed very critical of how his team treated frontline workers during a conference call, saying “they could care less.” What made you feel this way?
There were quite a few nurses on the call that just wanted to share our stories. We wanted to put pressure on Congress to invoke the Defense Production Act as well as OSHA emergency declarations to protect health care workers. Cornyn’s assistant said he had never received [our demands for assistance]. It was just not a good conversation. And then regarding the Defense Production Act, they really didn’t have anything to say about that.
So here we are still with a PPE shortage. So it was just disappointing for me. I was just under the impression that Senator Cornyn would at least be on the call or we would have some more answers because they weren’t really able to provide us with any answers or any help for information. They didn’t seem like they really cared.
Since your latest tweet, has his office contacted you again?
What do you want to see from local officials to help stem the spread of Covid-19?
We have 12% bed capacity remaining. We need to give our local officials more authority to keep the spread under control. Because I know my mayor really tried. [San Antonio] Mayor Ron Nirenberg tried for a really long time to get Governor Greg Abbott to mandate that masks be mandatory and Abbott continued to refuse. Eight mayors [in addition to Nirenberg last month] wrote a letter to Abbott. And he still refused. Abbott just [in July] approved that masks are mandatory. But I’m still seeing people without masks.
Even though the government is requiring these things, like having to wear a mask in public, it’s not being enforced. So what’s the point? I live downtown; even during lockdown, I could see hundreds of people congregating. They need to figure out a way to enforce whatever they’re going to require to reduce the spread and then somehow figure out a way to increase bed capacity.
You describe yourself as a conservative. What would you say to your fellow conservatives who seem skeptical about the need to wear masks?
We need to stop politicizing this. We need to stop making it a political game: “You wear a mask, you’re a liberal.” That’s just ridiculous. We’re not in high school anymore. Let’s just realize that you’re wearing a mask to protect other people that are more vulnerable or immunocompromised, that are at higher risk. You’re literally wearing a mask to help other people.
If you could tell Governor Abbott one thing that’s been on your mind, what would it be?
Actually, there is this good quote I want to say, because I really took heart to this, being a Republican: “Your allegiance to a political party should not subvert your allegiance to your country.” Governor Abbott needs to take a step back and see what needs to be done for the betterment of his state, and listen to the scientists and the facts.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.