Nurses union says workers were suspended for refusing to help coronavirus patients without N95 masks

Nurses union says workers were suspended for refusing to help coronavirus patients without N95 masks
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A California hospital suspended a group of nurses after they refused to enter rooms where patients were being treated for COVID-19 without first getting N95 respiratory masks, the National Nurses Union told The Associated Press

The union said that 10 nurses working at the Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., are not allowed to return to work until the hospital's human resources department finishes an investigation into the dispute. The nurses will receive payments while they are suspended. 

The National Nurses Union did not immediately respond to a request for further comment from The Hill. 

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The report of suspensions come as states and local health officials continue to raise alarms over a lack of medical equipment in hospitals amid the pandemic. Hospitals around the country have expressed concerns over shortages of N95 masks, which filter out 95 percent of all airborne particles. 

Mike Gulick, a nurse at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, told the AP that administrators did not provide the surgical masks because they did not think they were necessary. But doctors at the health center later told Gulick and other employees that they should be wearing the N95 masks after learning that a nurses had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. 

Gulick told the news service that the comments from the doctors prompted him and other nurses to refuse to treat COVID-19 patients without necessary medical equipment. 

Saint John’s said in a statement to the AP that it is handing out N95 masks to all nurses caring for COVID-19 patients and those who are waiting on test results. The private not-for-profit health center did not comment on the suspensions, but acknowledged that there is a national shortage of equipment. 

Saint John’s Health Center did not immediately return a request for comment from The Hill. 

Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that a surgical N95 mask is recommended for nurses "who need protection from both airborne and fluid hazards." But it also notes that most nurses caring for COVID-19 patients can use more standard masks. 

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Due to shortages, the CDC has said that health care personnel may even use face coverings such as bandannas or scarves while treating COVID-19 patients. 

Many hospitals have demanded added protection for their nurses but have had to deal with a sustained shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). Staff from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) told House lawmakers earlier this month that the emergency stockpile of PPE is depleted. 

HHS officials said that 90 percent of the stockpile’s inventory of PPE has already been distributed. The remaining equipment will be reserved for federal workers, the officials said.