PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — The union representing nurses and first responders on the front-line fighting COVID-19 at 50 hospitals across Florida claims the company behind those facilities is undermining safety when it comes to protective face masks.
The SEIU 1199 union represents nurses at medical centers owned by Hospital Corporation of America, also known as HCA. SEIU 1199 claims HCA loosened it's protocols for N95 masks use.
SEIU 1199 says that on April 3, HCA protocol had all nurses who treated COVID-19 patients were directed to wear N95 masks. However, the union says that on April 10 the directive was loosened, stating "only staff performing the most severe procedures," like surgery and placing tubes in the lungs of ventilator patients, "will be provided N95 masks."
"With so much unknown with this virus, the N95 is the only thing that makes us feel a little safer," said Pat Diaz, a registered nurse and member of SEIU 1199 in an interview with WPTV.
HCA East Florida said in an email to WPTV it's "doing everything we can to equip our patient care teams to provide safe, effective care during this unprecedented crisis."
Front line workers battling coronavirus consider the distinctive N95 mask the "gold standard" of protection for disposable masks.
The union says the rest of "caregivers providing all other procedures on these patients may only utilize a less-protective mask" like these level 1 masks, which experts say offer less protection.
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for HCA wrote, "the SEIU fails to recognize the reality all hospitals nationwide are facing, that this pandemic has strained the worldwide supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks, face shields, and gowns."
The union wrote company executives, demanding the hospitals "provide N95 masks for all direct caregivers interacting with COVID positive patients."
"It's like pushing me out of an airplane and not giving me a parachute," said Diaz, adding she wants the hospital to "give me my protection that I'm trained to do my job with."
READ HCA'S FULL STATEMENT HERE:
HCA East Florida is doing everything we can to equip our patient care teams to provide safe, effective care during this unprecedented crisis. The SEIU fails to recognize the reality all hospitals nationwide are facing, that this pandemic has strained the worldwide supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks, face shields, and gowns. This is especially surprising since the SEIU itself recently fell victim to an alleged N95 manufacturing scam that is now part of a U.S. Justice Department investigation.
HCA East Florida currently has adequate supplies of PPE, and we are doing everything in our power to ensure we continue to have enough to protect our colleagues as they provide care to patients. Following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we are taking steps to conserve PPE because we do not know what our future needs will be.
We are following CDC protocols for the reuse of certain PPE and we are asking our colleagues to conserve these items by following, but not exceeding, the guidelines for infection prevention. Level 1 or Level 1 equivalent procedural mask with full face shield plus hospital scrubs should be used for COVID positive patients, patients under investigation (PUIs) and for all ED staff. The evidence suggests that COVID-19 is spread by droplets, for which a standard face mask offers adequate protection. N-95 fit tested masks with full face shield should be utilized by staff performing aerosol-generating procedures, such as intubation, nebulization, bronchoscopy or suctioning.
Our goal since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has been to protect our front line clinicians and caregivers so they are able to continue to care for our patients and community. As this crisis evolves, our hospitals will continue to evolve to meet the challenges.