SANTA MONICA (CNS) - Ten nurses at Providence St. John's Health Center remained on suspension today after refusing to treat coronavirus patients without N95 respirator masks, although their union claimed victory with the hospital's announcement it is now providing the equipment.
According to the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, at least 15 nurses at the Santa Monica hospital refused to treat coronavirus patients unless they were given N95 masks or higher-standard equipment. Ten of those nurses were subsequently suspended, according to the union.
“We are so proud of these nurses,” Bonnie Castillo, a registered nurse and executive director of CNA/NNU, said in a statement. “Nurses understand and respect the science of infection control and that, with this virus, we must follow the precautionary principle by taking the most protective measures. This is the only way we can maintain our hospitals as centers of healing, and not vectors of disease.”
In a statement, hospital officials said that nurses have always been provided with the protective equipment outlined in guidelines in set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the state.
“These same guidelines are followed by most hospitals across the United States,” according to Providence. “There is a national shortage of PPE, including N95 masks. We do not manufacture these, and are at the mercy of the supply chain to increase our supplies.
“We are pleased that within the last week we received an increase in inventory and the FDA granted authorization to reprocess N95 masks, enabling us to provide them to all caregivers treating COVID-19 patients. We are proud of the work all our nurses have been performing during these unprecedented times and honor them for their many success stories. We are also proud that St. John's Health Center is one of only a few hospitals in the United States to lead three world-class clinical trials with two of the most promising approaches to treating COVID-19 patients.”
The hospital declined to comment specifically on the suspended nurses, citing employee privacy issues.
Providence officials announced Wednesday that the hospital system had begun a process of disinfecting N95 masks to improve its supply. Hospital officials said the disinfection system, coupled with donations of masks and recent deliveries, have helped bolster local supplies, although a national shortage continues.
The nurses' union hailed the decision to provide the N95 masks to those treating COVID-19 patients.
“It's a victory,” Chelsea Halmy, one of the suspended nurses, said in a statement provided by the union. “They're finally doing what they should have been doing in the first place. 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.”
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