Ten nurses from Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California were placed on administrative leave for requesting the hospital to provide them with N95 masks while treating COVID-19 patients.
Two nurses at PSJHC told reporters from CNN that they, together with eight other nurses, got suspended with pay after refusing to come inside coronavirus patient rooms on April 9 without N95 masks.
The nurses said the hospital announced there were no N95 masks for them and insisted they wear surgical masks instead, even though other healthcare workers at the hospital were provided N95 masks.
In a photo given to reporters, taken after nurses refused to enter COVID patient rooms inside the hospital, eight nurses are seen on the photo, with seven raising their fists inside PSJHC.
Micheal Gulick, one of the suspended nurses told reporters in a statement:
“I really was just fed up and demanded that my hospital do better and do right for us, especially when we saw blatant signs that there’s no reason why there should be a shortage.”
The hospital replied the nurses were provided surgical masks, which are considered as appropriate personal protective equipment based on CDC and WHO policies.
PSJHC didn’t want to comment specifically on the issues with their staff, saying they don’t deal with personnel issues publicly to protect their employees’ privacy, but they also confirmed reports that 10 nurses have been put on paid administrative leave.
Hospital spokesperson Patricia Aidem said in a statement:
“Every one of our nurses caring for COVID-19 positive patients and patients under investigation (PUIs), was provided appropriate PPE per CDC, WHO, and state guidelines,”
“These same guidelines are followed by most hospitals across the United States.”
The current CDC policy recommends that healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients or PUIs wear N95 or higher level respirators. Although N95 masks are “preferred,” healthcare professionals should only wear facemasks and surgical masks when respirators are not available.
Since the nurses didn’t want to enter the patient rooms, the N95 policy has changed. Aidem reported that the hospital has received an increased amount of N95 masks and is starting to sanitize and reuse masks, enabling the hospital to give them to all caregivers treating COVID-19 patients.
The human resources department of PSJHC has been meeting individually with the 10 nurses, according to Gulick and Jack Cline, another suspended nurse, telling them they are still suspended while they conduct an investigation that may last weeks.
Their suspension comes as hospitals all over the country are seeing an overwhelming surge of COVID-19 patients as the virus continues to spread.
In Los Angeles County, where Santa Monica is situated, the County Health Department reported they’ve experienced the largest increase in COVID-19 deaths for three days in a row on Friday. In the last 24 hours, the city of Santa Monica says they’ve seen an increase of 100 COVID-19 cases.
According to the FDA, the N95 masks are critical in preventing healthcare workers from acquiring the coronavirus because they block at least 95% of particulates in the air—like the novel coronavirus.
Hospitals across the US are scrambling to get more masks for their workers during the global outbreak, but it’s proving difficult because there’s a shortage of masks worldwide.