PPE & Face Masks are Running Out - Nurses Fear That They Are Being Infected By COVID-19
By Sarah Jividen
Nurses at UCLA Medical Center held an emergency press conference on Tuesday, March 17, demanding safe protective equipment and hands-on training to minimize contamination and exposure to COVID-19. The goal: to protect the medical staff, patients, and the Los Angeles community at large.
Nurses across the country are reporting severe shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE) - especially in N-95 face masks. They are having to re-use and ration facemasks. Hospitals have begun asking their communities to sew face masks and donate unopened boxes of face masks to their local hospitals.
Our healthcare workers deserve better. Our patients deserve better.
UCLA Medical Center Demands PPE Now
As the press conference began, several nurses stood in solidarity against a brick wall in front of the UCLA Medical Center emergency department. Speakers told the press that nurses and patients are being put at risk because protective equipment is becoming more scarce by the day.
Like Soldiers Going To War Without Protective Equipment
"We are like soldiers going to war," states Fong Chuu, a UCLA nurse and spokesperson. "If we are not equipped well, we are not going to win this battle."
This information comes almost a week after all non-essential establishments in Los Angeles were forced to close to help contain the virus. Most people are hunkering down at home. Except, of course, medical staff, such as UCLA nurses who are coming face-to-face with patients, many who are positive for Covid-19.
UCLA emergency room nurse and union representative, Marcia Santini, says, "nurses throughout both campuses do not have proper access to PPE (personal protective equipment). Several workers have been quarantined at home because of exposure."
If Nurses Are In Quarantine, Who Will Care For COVID-19 Patients?
This begs the question: if nurses are unable to protect themselves, how can our nation expect nurses to continue caring for the sick throughout the COVID-19 pandemic? The collective voice of UCLA nurses was loud and clear - you simply can't have one without the other.
The press conference was held in unity with National Nurses United and the California Nurses Association unions.
"This virus is endemic, and nurses must assume everyone has it, including one another," states Santini, who is also widely communicating with nurse staff to remind them to bring a change of clothing and shoes to wear home, as it is unknown how long the virus lives on clothing.
UCLA Nurse Angelica Jaime, also expressed disappointment and outrage when speaking of UC for not providing more precautionary equipment.
We Need To Increase The PPE Supply NOW
"We should not wait until we know for sure that something, like COVID-19, is harmful before we take action to protect people's health," Jaime stated. "We need to substantially increase the supply of the highest standard of protective equipment. That includes powered air-purifying respirators, N95 respirators, and other proper protective clothing and gear."
She continued to explain that one helpful and immediate step would be a coordinated release and distribution of all state and federal stockpiles of PPE for nurses and health care workers.
Nurses want the public to know their safety needs are not being met
At the press conference, nurse Santini stated that UC medical staff are not getting the proper PPE. In addition, this week the UC system relaxed the protections for nurses caring for known or suspected COVID-19 directing staff to use droplet/contact protections.
Santini also stated that California hospitals need to follow Cal Osha rules, not the CDC's, which requires that medical staff have access to the highest level of PPE. Santini states this is not the case and that the PPE they do have may run out.
"Just yesterday, registered nurses who were working in the emergency department were being harassed by management demanding nurses remove their N-95 masks and face shields," exclaimed Santini.
"We want the University and the public to know that if nurses are not safe, then patients aren't safe. Forcing nurses to remove protective equipment as we are under a national state of emergency causes more distress among the medical staff and increases the risk of COVID-19 exposure to other vulnerable patient populations."
As of Wednesday, Los Angeles County has confirmed that 144 total people have been confirmed positive for coronavirus, including two UCLA students. That number is expected to rise as more testing becomes available.
UCLA nurses are calling on the University of California Health System for help with the following:
- First, the nurses want PPE provided to healthcare workers caring for patients with possible COVID-19 infections. This includes N95 respirators plus covering of the eyes or powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRS) as well as gloves, gowns, and other protective equipment for droplet and aerosol precautions.
- Second, the nurses want hands-on training for all nurses on how to safely put on and remove PPE to limit exposure or contamination to COVID-19.
- "If a nurse is presented with a Covid-19 patient and their clinical judgment tells them they need to use a higher level of protection, the nurses do not have access to all PPD because we've run out or because it is being tightly distributed. The N95 masks are, in many departments, being locked up."
These takeaways from the UCLA press conference were crystal clear. In essence, we need our nurses healthy, or it will continue to put all healthcare workers and the community at risk, ultimately destabilizing the entire health system.
Nurses are feeling stressed.
"Not having full access to protective equipment, as we are under a national state of emergency, causes moral distress for the medical staff," explains Santini.
Nurses have historically succeeded in large numbers during times of strike, especially when it comes to patient safety issues. The difference now is that this battle must be done within hospital walls as nurses work harder than ever to care for patients during the COVID-19 epidemic.