Nurses Without N95 Masks Caring for Patients Possibly Infected

Hospital officials say it’s a matter of saving a limited resource until it’s definitely necessary. They are begging for more masks, gloves and gowns, and will take anything — even opened boxes of masks. They do not have enough to handle the projected surge.

by Kathleen Moore, The Post Star, Glens Falls, N.Y. / March 24, 2020
Close-up of sign warning visitors that surgical masks are for patient use only at a hospital in San Francisco, California, following a shortage of masks and N95 respirators during an outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus, March 12, 2020. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images) Sipa USA via AP
(TNS) - So far, Glens Falls Hospital has not had a single positive case of coronavirus.
But at any given time there’s a dozen people with suspicious symptoms who are waiting for test results — which can take up to a week to get.

While nurses are caring for those “potential coronavirus” patients, they are specifically banned from using a N95 mask.

Hospital officials say it’s a matter of saving a limited resource until it’s definitely necessary. They are begging for more masks, gloves and gowns, and will take anything — even opened boxes of masks. Right now, they do not have enough to handle the projected surge, they said.

But some nurses are saying that the hospital is relying on luck by not allowing N95 masks now. One day, one of the “potential coronavirus” cases will test positive — days after nurses have been going in and out without proper protection. By then, they fear, the virus could have been inadvertently spread through the hospital.

“I want to help people and I want to take care of people,” said one nurse, who asked to be anonymous out of fear of being fired for criticizing her employer. “Especially if they’re that sick, they need the comfort of people who care because they can’t even have visitors. But I want to protect myself. I don’t think that is asking too much.”
Another nurse said she worried about who would take care of a surge of patients if multiple nurses catch the virus from the first few patients to arrive.

Some nurses solicited donations and gave out masks to everyone on their unit, before being told they had to take them off.

“We have resorted to fending for ourselves,” one nurse said. “We are told we can’t protect ourselves. How is this legal? How is this ethically right? We are exposing ourselves, our co-workers, our other patients, our families.”

Another nurse said she has stopped volunteering for extra shifts because she does not feel protected.
They want the hospital to put all possible virus patients on one floor, so that masks and other gear can be conserved by only being used by a small number of nurses. Hospital officials said they are working on that, but they don’t have a floor of negative pressure rooms. Those rooms keep air (and the virus) from flowing out. The operating rooms are also negative pressure, and officials are looking to convert them into patient rooms.

But for now, the patients are scattered throughout the building.
Ideally, the nurses would all like masks, but they would accept being able to bring in their own masks if they can acquire them.

That won’t work either, said hospital spokesman Ray Agnew.
If nurses were allowed to find masks elsewhere, some nurses would come in without one and demand that the hospital provide it, he said.

And the hospital is not allowing any to be used until absolutely necessary because there are so few, he said.

This lies in the face of comments made by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday.
He said no one could “legitimately” claim to be out of masks right now.

“Today we can get a mask to anyone who needs them,” he said. “I can’t promise next week or the week after. Today there is no one who we can’t cover.”

Agnew said the hospital has asked for masks.

“To date, that has not happened though we are calling at regular intervals throughout the day to check on the status of these requests,” he said.

He added that he’s aware of how unhappy employees are with the lack of masks.
“There’s a lot of anxiety throughout the community,” he said. “We have an amazing team here, but they are not immune to the stresses here.”

The hospital will issue masks for “aerosoling events” such as an emergency intubation. That’s based on CDC recommendations for conserving masks for the most contagious activities.
Still, he said, he knows the nurses want masks all the time.
“It’s very difficult. I truly understand the anxiety,” he said.

And he agrees that everyone is worried about spreading the virus through the hospital.
“We all are. At the same time, it is not a perfect world,” he said. “We just have to try very hard to manage the PPE (personal protective equipment) we have.”

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