FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- California's health care workers could be in line for big bonuses under a new bill that would make the extra pay mandatory, but delay payments into 2022 to help with retention.
Behind the doors of hospitals, in the moments they've had to themselves between treating an overflow of COVID patients, a lot of health care workers have wondered whether what they're doing is worth it.
"There were many health care workers at different periods of this pandemic that said, 'I don't know if I want to continue to do this job. I don't know if I can. I'm worried for my family. I'm worried about my own mental health,'" said Gabriel Montoya.
He's an emergency medical technician who says he lived in fear at first -- when his Downey hospital started seeing COVID patients, but the coronavirus was still mostly a mystery.
Overwhelming stress took over when the number of patients ballooned, especially around the holidays.
He got infected, but two of his co-workers suffered even more.
"While they were serving patients and caring for patients, their family members were upstairs in ICU," Montoya said.
Those family members lost their battles.
But Montoya says the health care workers still showed up to work as long as they were healthy.
Norma Hernandez says every shift came at a physical and mental cost. They've burned out and had to keep going.
"This pandemic is killing our souls," Hernandez said. "I want people to understand what we are going through. With each patient that dies, we lose a piece of ourselves."
Southern California Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi wants to give them something back and make sure they stay on the job.
His bill would force hospitals with 100 or more employees to pay $10,000 bonuses to all full-time workers in four installments next year.
Part-time workers would get smaller bonuses, and employees would have to still be employed to get the extra pay, but the bill for hospitals still totals about $6 billion.
Community Medical Centers was the only Central Valley hospital from which we got a response to the proposed bill by our deadline.
They note that they've already paid employee bonuses.
"During this pandemic, Community expanded support for our team in a multitude of ways including launching new employee assistance programs and wellness resources to help us navigate the impacts this pandemic has had on our lives," said the hospital's statement. "We provided recognition bonuses to employees last November and offered premium pay to those willing to pick up additional work shifts beyond their normal schedule. Our generous donors and many local businesses and residents also stepped up and provided food and supplies to CMC employees to show their gratitude."
The bill's supporters say no exceptions would be made for hospitals that already paid bonuses.
The bill is still a long way from passing into law, but it is scheduled for a committee hearing next Monday.