This Nurse is Leading the Fight for Safer Hospitals
In early January, before most people in the U.S. had even heard of Covid-19, Bonnie Castillo called a meeting with two trusted health care deputies at the country’s largest union of registered nurses. Castillo was alarmed by news reports about how a virus — so mysterious it didn’t yet have a name — was ravaging Wuhan, China, and asked the union’s director of health and safety and its industrial hygienist to go through some scientific reports. As she listened, Castillo, the executive director of National Nurses United and a former intensive care nurse, grew worried. The disease, they told her, was spreading rapidly. Many carriers were asymptomatic. Particles could stay in the air for a long time. “As a nurse, there are just times when it’s very intuitive,” Castillo said. “You just sense that something catastrophic is going to happen.” Even before the pandemic, Castillo, 60, had expanded the union’s health and safety team, which focuses on issues such as on-the-job injuries and workplace violence. That emphasis on bread-and-butter concerns earned her criticism from some people who said the organization was shifting away from the more politically charged brand of labor activism for which it is known. But it was precisely this focus that positioned Castillo to raise the alarm long before others recognized the scale of the oncoming crisis. “She was one of the earliest voices for a response,” said Liz Shuler, the secretary-treasurer of the A.F.L.-C.I.O, an umbrella organization for more than 50 labor unions.