The Phoenix Flyer

Nurses protest over short staffing, reusing face masks at FL hospitals, amid COVID-19

By: - September 1, 2020 3:49 pm

Nurses protesting lack of PPE at Largo Medical Center in Largo on May 2020. Credit: National Nurses United


Alexandria Benjamin of Fawcett Memorial Hospital said in an email to the Phoenix in response to the protests:

“Since the beginning of this pandemic, Fawcett Memorial Hospital’s primary focus has been on protecting our caregivers and our patients and we’ve done that by following guidance by experts, including those at the [federal] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

We screen people, including caregivers, before they enter our hospital, and colleagues who are sick are not to report to work. In addition, we provide our caregivers Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), including masks, face shields and gowns, in line with guidelines from the CDC. We’re proud of our response to the pandemic and the significant resources we’ve deployed to help keep our caregivers safe.”

Registered nurses in Florida and other states held protests Tuesday at hospitals, saying they face severe staffing shortages and are being required to reuse N95 respiratory masks “after decontamination,” according to the National Nurses United.

NNU, a large union representing registered nurses nationwide, said in a press release that reusing single-use N95 respiratory masks “is not proven to be safe or effective for protection against COVID-19,” putting nurses at greater risk of exposure to the virus.

The Florida protests took place Tuesday morning at the Blake Medical Center in Bradenton and Fawcett Memorial Hospital in Port Charlotte. The Phoenix contacted both hospitals through emails earlier Tuesday, and those facilities have not yet responded.

Nurses at those facilities “are also alarmed at what they call dangerous short staffing, and in some cases cuts in additional staff,” NNU said.

“Today’s actions were organized to protest against staffing cuts and efforts by HCA to require registered nurses to recycle their single use masks,” Bradley Van Waus, NNU spokesman, said in an email to the Florida Phoenix.

HCA Healthcare is a large health care provider comprising more than 180 hospitals in 21 states and the United Kingdom, according to its website.

The union released safety guidelines for hospital administrators to prevent COVID-19 infections in a document titled “Standards for Hospital Safety During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

For staffing, the memorandum says that health care facilities must “ensure safe staffing at all times” and “patient assignments should not include both COVID-positive” and patients without COVID-19.

“Mixed assignments increase the potential for transmission of the virus between patients and staff,” the document reads.

Blake Medical Center registered nurse Yulanda Bakare said in a written statement:

“When we are with fewer nurses, and the loss of other staff, we are running between patients and have far less time to give each patient the timely, individualized care they need.”

Meanwhile, as of Aug. 24, nurses around the nation have been fighting the coronavirus on the front lines, resulting in at least 193 deaths among RNs who have succumbed to the respiratory illness, according to NNU.

As previously reported by the Phoenix, the union has been honoring those fallen nurses who lost the fight against COVID-19 on its website.

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.