Nurses gathered outside the White House to demand the President fully invoke the Defense Production Act to produce the PPE health care workers need.
NEW YORK — Employers and the government disregard the safety and well-being of nurses and their patient with lack of optimal personal protection equipment, the National Nurses United (NNU) said in statement after completing a nationwide survey of 23,000 nurses. The survey results were gathered from both NNU unionized nurse members as well as nonunion nurses in all 50 states plus Washington, D.C. and four U.S. territories. The preliminary results cover the period April 15 to May 10.
“Months into the pandemic, the virus continues to threaten communities across the country, and more than 100 nurses have died of COVID-19. This new survey shows that nurses are still fighting today for optimal personal protective equipment (PPE), fighting to get tested, and fighting for their own lives, and their patients’ lives,” said NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN.
Eighty-seven percent of nurses reported extremely high rates of reusing a single-use disposable respirator or mask with COVID-19 patient. Reusing single-use PPE increase exposures to patients, nurses and other staff. It is also an improper infection control that would have not allowed prior to the pandemic, the survey revealed.
According to NNU, despite nurses’ demands, President Trump has made no effort to mass produce N95 respirators using the Defense Production Act. Many hospitals still keep PPE under lock and key when they have it, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration never addressed nurses’ demands to pass emergency temporary standards that would have mandated employers to provide optiomal PPE.
NNU Executive Director – Bonnie Castillo
“Dr. Rick Bright’s testimony to Congress last week came as no surprise to us. Nurses on the front lines are dying as evidence of it. He calls it indifference – we call it willful negligence,” says Castillo. “We can’t even say they failed, because that would imply they tried.”
Other results of the survey include:
- More than a quarter—28%—of respondents had to reuse a so-called ‘decontaminated’ respirator with confirmed COVID-19 patients. Decontamination of respirators has not been shown to be safe or effective, can degrade the respirator so that it no longer offers protection, and some methods use chemicals that are toxic to breathe, say nurses, who emphasize employers are increasingly implementing PPE decontamination to save money.
- 72% of nurses reported having exposed skin or clothing when caring for suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients, leaving patients, nurses, and other health care workers at risk of being exposed to the virus.
- 27% of nurses providing care to confirmed COVID-19 patients reported having been exposed without the appropriate PPE and having worked within 14 days of exposure. This puts their coworkers, and their patients, in danger, say nurses, who continue to demand that employers provide protections at work.
Click here to listen to NNU Presidents Jean Ross, RN; Zenei Cortez, RN; and Deborah Burger, RN discuss the survey results: May 2020 NNU Covid-19 Survey Results — For Electronic Media
Survey results also show that after nurses are exposed to the virus in dangerous working conditions, a lack of testing or paid time off further jeopardizes their health and safety, and their ability to protect their patients and families:
- Some 84% of nurses reported they have not yet been tested: only about 16% of respondents have been tested for COVID-19.
- Of those nurses who have been tested, more than 500 nurses reported a positive result with another 500-plus nurses still waiting for results when taking the survey.
- A third of nurses reported that their employer requires them to use their own sick leave, vacation, or paid time off if a nurse gets COVID-19 or is exposed to COVID-19 and needs to self-quarantine. If a nurse contracts COVID-19, the illness should be presumed to be work-related and covered by workers’ compensation, say nurses, who call for states to pass bills ensuring that nurses are protected with presumptive eligibility for COVID-19.
“The richest country in the world will call nurses heroes without even bothering to invest in mass producing N95 respirators and other equipment to keep nurses alive,” says Castillo. “Nurses signed up to care for their patients. They did not sign up to die needlessly on the front lines of a pandemic. Our message to employers and the Trump administration is: Platitudes are empty without protections. For our sake, for the public’s sake—give us PPE.”