Vigil held in front of UIHC during week of prayer for essential workers

In a vigil on Wednesday, members of the SEIU 199 union prayed for lives lost in the pandemic and for Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley to pass the HEROES Act.

TIffin+resident%2C+Karen+Kieth-Zamora+sit+in+silence+during+a+candlelight+vigil+at+University+of+Iowa+Hospitals+and+Clinics+on+Monday%2C+August+26th%2C+2020.+SEIU%2C+along+with+several+nurses+and+community+members+held+a+candlelight+vigil+to+honor+the+nurses+who+passed+away+from+COVID-19.+

Tate Hildyard for The Daily Iowa

TIffin resident, Karen Kieth-Zamora sit in silence during a candlelight vigil at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics on Monday, August 26th, 2020. SEIU, along with several nurses and community members held a candlelight vigil to honor the nurses who passed away from COVID-19.

Natalie Dunlap, News Reporter


Inside the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, essential workers and caregivers are treating patients with COVID-19. Outside, the local chapter of Service Employees International Union held a candlelight vigil Wednesday evening in the memory garden to honor essential workers lost in the pandemic and to call on Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa to take action protecting essential workers.

Members are calling on Republican senators to pass the $3 trillion dollar HEROES act, which passed the House of Representatives on May 15. The bill includes hazard pay for essential workers as well as PPE and layoff protections, according to a press release from SEIU.

Roughly 23 patients who are infected with COVID-19 are being treated in UIHC, as of the latest numbers shared on The Loop.

“The vigil is part of a national week of prayer for essential workers who’ve lost their lives to COVID-19 and a call to protect those still serving the public,” said SEIU spokesperson Jim McNeill in the release.

The name of one man lost to the pandemic was brought up multiple times during the vigil: Melvin “Mel” Stahmer. According to his obituary, Stahmer was a letter carrier and friend of the SEIU 199 union who died on Aug. 19 at UIHC due to COVID-19 complications.

Iowa City Councilor Pauline Taylor, founding member of Local 199 at UIHC, said Stahmer’s death inspired her to speak more publicly about the seriousness of the pandemic.

Taylor is also a former nurse, who used to work in the operating room at UIHC, she said. She urged Grassley and Ernst to pass the HEROES Act, and for businesses to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

“It’s not that much we’re asking,” she told The Daily Iowan.

Iowa City resident, Jon Stahmer stands in silence during a candlelight vigil at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics on Monday, August 26th, 2020. SEIU, along with several nurses and community members held a candlelight vigil to honor the nurses who passed away from COVID-19. (Tate Hildyard for The Daily Iowa)

At the vigil, Stahmer’s wife, Kathy, shared how helpful UIHC staff were when her husband was battling COVID-19. She said essential workers were reading cards for him and would hold the phone for him so she could say goodnight to him.

“I just feel like we have to lift them up,” she said, “…and we should be ashamed of ourselves if we don’t.”

According to the Aug. 26 update on the loop, 361 UI Health Care employees have tested positive for COVID-19 this year.

UIHC nurse practitioner Dana Jones, Local 199 member,  discovered a glitch in Iowa’s COVID-19 data reporting, earlier this month.

“I love my job and I love where I work,” Jones said. “The HEROES Act is going to ensure that they have the tools that they need to help me do my job and I think that’s the important piece. We all have limitations and I know they have them too and I think they need the backing of the government to help them to help us.”

The HEROES Act was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives on May 15. The bill would provide assistance at the state and local level, provide funding and establish requirements for COVID-19 testing and contract tracing, expand sick days and family leave among other things.

Ernst Press Secretary Ben Watson said in an email to The Daily Iowan that during her 99 County Tour, the senator is continuing to hear from residents all over Iowa about how the pandemic has affected them.

“It’s clear Iowans need additional relief during this pandemic,” Watson said. “That’s why Senator Ernst has and continues to call on her colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, to come together on another COVID-19 relief package to make sure Iowans have the support they need to rebuild and recover.”

Representatives for Sen. Grassley’s office did not respond by the time of publication.

In a prayer written by Service Employees International Union member and Reverend Julia Rendon, read by Pat Bowen, attendees lifted up their grief and anger about the circumstances and the lives lost to COVID-19.

After a moment of silence, the prayer continued, lifting up Ernst and Grassley to take action.  “May they have the courage to do what is right, to fight the toxic political environment they inhabit,” she said. “We pray that they will work to pass the HEROES Act.”

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