‘Patients were coughing directly in our face’: Nurses protest Santa Monica hospital after 10 suspended for refusing COVID-19 care without N95 masks

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Nurses gathered outside Providence St. John’s Health Center Friday in protest after ten nurses were suspended for refusing to treat COVID-19 patients without N95 masks.

The ten nurses were put on paid administrative leave after telling the hospital they wouldn’t go inside rooms of coronavirus patients without more protective gear.

“We didn’t feel safe going into COVID-19 patient rooms without an N95 respirator because the patients were coughing directly in our face,” one of the suspended nurses, Jack Cline, said. “Administration came and tried to give us a direct order to go into those rooms, but we feared for our safety and the safety of our coworkers.”

The demands for N95 respirators came shortly after one of the hospital’s nurses, Angela Gatdula, said she tested positive the coronavirus.

“I contracted [COVID-19] and I believe I contracted it while I was taking care of patients,” Gatdula told KTLA. “The hospital was assuring us that we would be protected with a simple surgical mask, and I am proof that that is not enough protection.”

Providence St. John’s didn’t comment on the suspended nurses but said it has made improvements after receiving more supplies and guidelines from the U.S. Food and Drug administration on reprocessing N95 masks. The hospital said it is now providing the respirators to all nurses treating COVID-19 patients.

“Every one of our nurses caring for COVID-19 positive patients and patients under investigation (PUIs), was provided appropriate PPE per CDC, WHO and state guidelines. These same guidelines are followed by most hospitals across the United States,” Providence St. John’s Health Center told KTLA in a statement.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines don’t require N95 masks for people caring for COVID-19 patients, but the masks are known to filter out tiny airborne particles that aren’t blocked by regular masks. Medical centers around the country have been trying to get a supply of the respirators and other protective gear for health care workers.

But as hospitals scramble for more protective gear amid global shortages, health care workers have described having to reuse masks and make their own gear.

This is even as the state has distributed more than 41.5 million masks and other protective gear throughout California.

“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,” Providence St. John’s statement read.

Across Los Angeles County, 1,441 health care workers had tested positive for the coronavirus as of Friday — 38% of them nurses, according to the county’s public health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer.

That’s more than a third of the 3,155 health care workers who have COVID-19 statewide, according to data from the state’s health agency.

The state’s ill health care workers include both those who were exposed to the respiratory illness on the job and through travel or close family contact.

But regardless of how they were exposed, officials said the health care professionals would have to quarantine or isolate at a time when hospitals statewide are trying to step up capacity to meet increased demands during the pandemic.

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