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At vigil for hospital worker who died of coronavirus, a call for more protections

Wade Vandervort

Stephanie Debose speaks at a candlelight vigil on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020, in honor of her cousin Yulanda Hodge, a St. Rose Dominican employee who died from COVID-19 at age 48.

The cousins must have been no older than 10 when they grabbed pins one day to prick their fingers, and shook hands. Although the little girls were already related, they were so inseparable that they also wanted to be “blood sisters.” 

On Tuesday night, a month after COVID-19 killed her cousin, Stephanie Debose says she still can’t believe she’s gone. 

Yulanda Hodge — a dietary clerk at St. Rose Dominican Rose de Lima and San Martin campuses — lost her battle to the coronavirus on July 18, family said. She was 48. 

Nevada’s Service Employees International Union Local 1107 was joined Tuesday night by Hodge’s family, her coworkers and other unions for a candlelight vigil outside the Henderson hospital. 

They demanded local hospitals, elected officials and community members “do better” to keep their promises of protecting front-line workers from the pandemic. It’s not known how or where Hodge contracted the virus.

“St. Rose Dominican is a mission-driven group of incredible people, and the loss of any member is felt throughout our ministry. Yulanda was a vibrant part of our St. Rose family and we are devastated by her loss,” wrote Kimberly Shaw, president and CEO of St. Rose Dominican San Martin campus, in a statement. 

Hodge was a longtime member of the hospitals’ food and nutrition team. In her position as a dietary clerk, she made sure that meal preparations for patients were completed through doctors’ orders. 

“We mourn her loss, along with her Nutrition Team colleagues, her family and her friends,” Shaw said.

Grace Vergara-Mactal, SEIU Local 1107’s executive director, held back tears as she described Hodge as “a shoulder for her coworkers to cry on when they needed a shoulder to cry on.”

“This is a scary time and a scary world that we are living in and now it’s not the time to be silent,” Vergara-Mactal added. 

Among the union’s complaints are lack of proper staffing and sufficient personal protective equipment for all health care employees. They also want the hospitals to provide adequate time off to quarantine when health care workers come in contact with the virus or if they need to care for sick loved ones. 

“Lunches are nice and billboards are great, however, making sure that your staff is staffed appropriately and has PPE for everyone is more important,” said one of Hodge’s colleagues. 

Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft thanked Hodge’s family for their gift to the community. He recalled his baby daughter being born in the same hospital six months ago. COVID-19 has claimed at least 1,102 lives in Nevada, most of whom have died in Clark County. A total of 62,639 cases have been detected in the state. 

The way Hodge was described as having a big welcoming smile reminded Naft about all front-line workers in Southern Nevada who carry out their difficult jobs with grace, he said. 

“This pandemic impacts everybody,” Naft said. “It does not care about borders, it does not care about jurisdictions here in our community, and it doesn’t care about age or health — everybody is at risk.” 

He said the local government “wants to do everything they can to make sure” workers are safe. 

Debose said her cousin was buried a couple weeks ago, but the death still hasn’t fully hit her. Both born in Louisiana, they were brought to Las Vegas as toddlers. 

Although she has an older sister, Debose said that she was closer to Hodge since they were only separated by two years in age. 

“Her laugh was contagious, her spirit was genuine, her grace was,” said Debose, pausing. “She was so stylish, beautiful inside and out,” she said, adding that her family, including her two daughters, meant everything to Hodge.

The cousins would talk every day on the phone, including the night before Hodge died at home.

It upsets Debose that she didn’t get to see her again after she got ill. “I wanted to hug her … I told her I love her, but it’s not the same. I needed to see her face.”

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