Free Health Screenings For Hospitality Workers – Healthy Hospitality Initiatives- Is it enough?

Healthy Hospitality
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Mayor LaToya Cantrell, the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation (NOTMC) and health care nonprofit 504HealthNet to increase access to health care for hospitality workers.

The event will take place at the George and Joyce Wein Jazz & Heritage Center on North Rampart Street from 2 pm to 6 p.m., where hospitality employees can receive free and quick health screenings.

This is an excellent opportunity to check on your:

  • Blood Sugar for Diabetes
  • Blood Pressure for Stroke
  • Cholesterol for Heart Disease
  • STD testing
  • Medicaid eligibility
  • And much more.

New Orleans has a high rate of uninsured residents, and most of these people work in the hospitality industry, some making $2.00/hr plus tips and the work is not easy. It’s not enough! It’s not fair at all. Writing about this brings to mind how awful I felt dining in the French Quarter on Saturday. I felt so bad I promised myself to stop eating at restaurants that include tips as salary, especially under minimum wage. Yes, I just may call in ahead to ask how much the wait staff makes.

Over the weekend, I treated a family member to one of my favorite childhood restaurants, the New Orleans Hamburger &Seafood Company in the French Quarter. This would be my first and last time eating at this location, not that the food or service was terrible, but for what I observed. Moments after we were seated in the upstairs dining room and placed our order, I wanted to leave after watching the employees walk up and down the narrow flight of stairs. As I watched, I felt saddened as the staff worked their tails off with no reward and hardly any thanks. After taking orders, they would run down the stairs to place the order, return with drinks, napkins, and silverware, run back downstairs, walk back up sometimes without the food only to apologize to the rude customers for a delay in their order. Maybe, my guest and I were the only ones to see how challenging it was for the employees. The employees would continue this process until that last run down the stairs would result in returning with plates of hot tasty food, then repeat for the next table. I actually started sweating and grew tired of watching them.

There was a door near my table, and we concluded that behind it was a kitchen for washing dishes, a break room and so on. We waited to see what would happen when the guest was done with their meals. An older busman trekked up the stairs with a bin, collected the dirty dishes, and he went through the door. I thought to myself, “Thank God, there’s an area to wash dishes in up here” and as we attempted to cheer one of the witnesses followed him with dirty plates in hand. She pulled the old heavy door open as it was light as paper and we let out a gasp. It was the back stairwell; we would find out that the dirty dishes can not go down the same steps to avoid colliding with staff coming up with food. What happened to the days of the “dumbwaiter.” I can barely take my dishes back into the kitchen from my dining room no less carrying what looked like 50lbs of dishes. My goodness!

It was too much for me to handle. I lost my appetite. It reminded me of all the stories of working Freed Slaves, yet still enslaved.

I never understood why those I knew who work in the tourism industry refuse to patronize downtown or use their employee discounts in New Orleans. My ex always used to say, ” I don’t care how much discount they give me, I will not have my co-workers wait on me.” And here I was the ”Uppity House Nicca” showing off My Nola watching my fellow New Orleanian worked hard for $2/hr. I used to work in the restaurant industry early in life as a waitress and ending my career as an owner, and I do not care how good tips can be at times, it doesn’t balance out the down days. I didn’t like myself, and my guest agreed but thought I personalized it a bit much.

I couldn’t shake it, and I asked another waitress if there was a way to communicate with my waitress who was downstairs to cancel my order without going down herself, she said No. My waitress came over to my table after she served her customers to inquire about my desire to cancel my order stating it should not be too much longer. I told her I felt comfortable having her wait on me after noticing how much physical work there was to their job for minimum wage. She responded, ”Girl, those steps… Let’s just say I lost 15lbs in three months and I wish we made minimum wage, it would be far better than making this $2/hr. “Oh, let me add $2/hr plus tips, but the average tip is $3.00, and we can’t forget about how hard the bus person works.” I jokingly added, “I need to walk a few miles of those steps for you, but I heard my knee pop coming up with the host.” She had a friendly smile and attitude even under all the complaints and physical strain on her body; all of the staff were marvelous.

After our chat, she went down to check on our food and returned with overpriced plates of catfish and shrimp po’boys that I could barely eat, because everything around me did not make sense. It made me sick to my stomach to watch how hard they worked for $2/hr compared to $15($30+tax for 2) 12in poboy that would cost $6 in my neighborhood. We left shortly afterward leaving a tip of appreciation and to compensate for the measly $2.00 the other table left…

I’m happy to report that not one employee hurt themselves on the stairs or dropped a dish in the 45 minutes I was there, but needless to say, I’m sure that more than an ankle or 200 have been twisted on those steps.

I noticed that most of the wait staff were in their early 20s, which could explain their energy and drive, but I’m sure the turnover rate is high. I could not imagine anyone working there over 30 years old or work there over a few months. It’s hard work and hard on the body too not only in this particular restaurant but in the hospitality industry period for entry workers.

The tourism industry is booming here but look at the state of the workers who have to choose between having a roof over their heads over health insurance. Several New Orleans hospitality employees often work with undetected life-threatening illness, that can be treated very effectively when identified early if they were able to afford the health insurance and afford to take off to from work to go to their doctor’s appointment.

Irion Cloud, a housekeeper at International House Hotel in New Orleans, is working with EdNavigator to get help for her school-age daughters. Photo: Mareesa Nicosia

I hope this new initiative is at least a step forward in improving how the city and tourism industry treats their employees; these are the people who make the tourism industry all that it is. The hospitality workers are the driving force behind all the hospitality and tourism entities. They are not only essential but valuable to the industry, and they deserve the best affordable, actually FREE health insurance and fair wages for all that they do.

The city’s new Healthy Hospitality initiative hopes to increase access to health care for hospitality workers, which can help identify health concerns or risk factors for workers who may not have the ability to afford health insurance. If you work in the hospitality industry and can get a break from your job on Tuesday, August 6th, between 2 pm to 6 pm, I highly recommend that you attend this event.

The health care nonprofit 504HealthNet has a network of community-based health centers in neighborhoods where people can more easily access care. 504HealthNet provides primary care, preventive, and behavioral health services regardless of ability to pay. You can find more information about the services offered at 504HealthNet

Sources: The Advocate, 504HealthNet, Nola.Gov, and NEWORLEANS.COM

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