Despite repeated assurances by President Trump, and Vice President Pence, thousands of health care workers across the country are still without adequate personal protection equipment.
Like thousands of nurses and health care workers, Mike Gulick, a registered nurse working at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, has been meticulous about not bringing the coronavirus home to his family. He made a daily habit after work of stopping in a local hotel, showering and hand washing dozens of times a day. He’d even wash his work clothes in Lysol disinfectant when he came home.
Gulick and his fellow nurses and healthcare colleagues worried that caring for infected patients without an N95 respirator mask was extremely risky. But administrators at Providence Saint John’s Health Center insisted that the N95 masks weren’t necessary and either couldn’t or wouldn’t provide them. These masks filter out 95% of all airborne particles, including ones too tiny to be blocked by regular medical masks commonly used by medical professionals and support staff.
Last week, a nurse on Gulick’s ward tested positive for the coronavirus, which can lead to the fatal COVID-19 disease. The very next day, physicians doing rounds on their ward asked the nurses why they weren’t wearing N95 masks, insisting they needed the masks to do their work with infected patients. This wasn’t news to Gulick, whose wife is also a nurse at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center across town in Los Angeles and who not only wore an N95 mask but covered it with a second air-purifying respirator while she cared for COVID-19 patients.
The warning from the physicians did trigger him, and some of his fellow nurses to confront the issue with their managers. He and his fellow nurses made it clear they wouldn’t enter COVID-19 patient rooms without N95 masks.
Providence Saint John’s Health Center was swift in its response to their insistence of the life-saving masks – it suspended them. Gulick and nine other nurses are now being paid but not allowed to return to work pending an investigation from human resources, according to the National Nurses Union, which represents them.
Gulick and his fellow nurses are among thousands of doctors, nurses, and other health care workers across the country who say they’ve been asked to work without adequate personal protection equipment. This is prompting protests at hospitals across the country by health care workers. One hospital suspended a nurse that set up a go fund me page to raise money for protective equipment. Many are buying their own— or even making protection supplies the best they can.
The Associated Press reported…
“Angela Gatdula, a Saint John’s nurse who fell ill with COVID-19, said she asked hospital managers why doctors were wearing N95s, but nurses weren’t. She says they told her that the CDC said surgical masks were enough to keep her safe.”
Gatdula quickly started experiencing a dry cough, severe body aches, and joint pain…
“When I got the phone call that I was positive, I got really scared.”
She’s now recovering and plans to return to work next week but is worried…
“The next nurse that gets this might not be lucky. They might require hospitalization. They might die.”
The CDC shares in the health risk and are responsible for the illness and death healthcare workers are experiencing. The agency literally lowered its standard for health care workers’ protective gear, recommending they use bandannas if they run out of the masks. It would be one thing to lower the standard because the equipment is not available; it’s another thing to lower the standards without acknowledging the tremendous danger.
Some exasperated health care workers have complained to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Still, in the Trump era of punishing whistleblowers, the threat of filing complaints is a very dangerous act. A Tennessee medical worker who complained staffers were not allowed to wear their own masks if they weren’t directly treating COVID-19 patients was quoted in the media recently…
“I fear retribution for being a whistleblower and plead to please keep me anonymous.”
Nurses that complained in Oregon about not being provided N95 masks while working with suspected COVID-19 patients we’re told… “told that wearing a mask will result in disciplinary action.”
A nurse in New Jersey, who asked not to be named out of fear of retribution, said she was looking for a new job after complaining to OSHA. According to that nurse…
“Do I regret filing the complaint? No, at least not yet…I know it was the right thing to do.”
The personal protection equipment crisis incited nurse unions in New York, Massachusetts, Michigan, Illinois, California, and Pennsylvania to schedule protests at their hospitals and posted on social media using “#PPEoverProfit.”
Nurses at Kaiser Permanente’s Fresno Medical Center in central California demanded more protective supplies at a protest during their shift change Tuesday. The hospital, like many in the U.S., requires nurses to use one N95 mask per day, which has raised concerns about carrying the infection from one patient to the next.
Ten nurses from Provident Hospital of Cook County have tested positive with COVID-19, Kaiser said. Three have been admitted to the hospital, and one is in critical care.
Wade Nogy, a Kaiser senior vice president at Provident Hospital, dared to deny union claims that nurses have been unnecessarily exposed….
“Kaiser Permanente has years of experience managing highly infectious diseases, and we are safely treating patients who have been infected with this virus while protecting other patients, members, and employees.”
A critical care nurse at the same Kaiser facility was quoted as saying…
“That before the pandemic, currently using the safety protocols now being used, would have been grounds for disciplinary action.”
“And now it’s like they’ve thrown all those standards out the window as if they never existed…It’s beyond me.”