Nurses Suspended After Refusing to Work Without N95 Masks, but Hospital Now Accedes to Demands

April 16, 2020

National Nurses United and the California Nurses Association, declared victory because hospital administrators “announced that health care workers throughout the Providence system will be issued N95 respirator masks to wear when caring for COVID positive or potentially COVID positive patients…,” according to a press release issued by the unions.

The shortage of N95 respirators and other personal protective equipment (PPE) calls into question healthcare worker safety as they treat patients with COVID-19. A study by investigators with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention brought the problem even more into the limelight when it found that 9,282 healthcare workers have been infected with COVID-19. Most of the healthcare workers in the study, published Tuesday in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, were not hospitalized but “severe outcomes, including death, were reported among all age groups.”

Ten nurses at Santa Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, have been suspended for refusing to work without being given N95 respirators, the Associated Press reportsthis morning. 

Mike Gulick, one of the nurses at the hospital, discovered last week that another nurse on his ward tested positive for  SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. 

“For Gulick, that was it,” the AP reports. “He and a handful of nurses told their managers they wouldn’t enter COVID-19 patient rooms without N95 masks.” They were suspended with pay and cannot return work until a completion of an investigation of the situation by the hospital’s human resources department. 

However, the nurse unions, National Nurses United and the California Nurses Association, declared victory because hospital administrators “announced that health care workers throughout the Providence system will be issued N95 respirator masks to wear when caring for COVID positive or potentially COVID positive patients…,” according to a press release issued by the unions. 

In the press release, Chelsea Halmy, a medical-surgical RN who works on the COVID unit and is one of the suspended nurses, said that the hospital should have been doing this all along. “We are glad, but it’s upsetting that it had to come to this point and that our safety wasn’t their first priority. We still have so much more work to do.”

Meaning that Providence still requires that nurses wear the same N95 mask for an entire shift, and that means that nurses enter “rooms where patients are COVID positive and rooms where patients are potentially negative-increasing risks of cross contamination,” according to the press release.

Infection preventionist Linda Spaulding, RN, BC, CIC, CHEC, and a member of Infection Control Today®’s Editorial Advisory Board reports from the frontlines, that healthcare workers take great precautions and many have practiced social distancing from the families, adding that “a lot of healthcare workers, like the general public, they’re fearful. They’re afraid they’re going to get it. They’re afraid they’re going to take it home to their families. We have some healthcare workers that the families have broken up. Not broken up literally, but living in two different houses now, because one of them is a nurse. He or she wants to keep the family safe.”