Nurses protest new protocol that only certain staff be given N95 masks

Groups demonstrate outside of hospitals demanding better protection on the job

TAMARAC, Fla. – Nurses and other medical professionals on the frontlines gathered Thursday outside hospitals throughout South Florida to protest what they say is a lack of personal protective equipment.

Many of the nurses protesting are from the state’s largest healthcare union, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.

A group outside University Hospital in Tamarac said they signed up to save lives, not risk their own.

A media release from the organization stated: "Already, there are about 28,000 confirmed cases and almost 900 deaths, while healthcare workers across the state are forced to provide care while facing dangerous shortages of masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment (PPE)."

Patricia Diaz, a nurse and member of United Healthcare Workers East, who was one of the protesters in Tamarac, said “We are demanding our proper protective equipment. It’s not that we’re afraid to do the work, but we need to be protected also. The mental health of our staff is really bad right now because there is so much unknown with this disease and they are scared.

Union members also point out that if caregivers start falling from the virus in large numbers, there won’t be enough healthcare workers to serve the broader public. So far, the union estimates more than 100 Florida members of 1199SEIU have become ill and/or have been quarantined because of possible COVID-19 exposure. The bulk of these figures are from 75 nursing homes in which the union represents caregivers.

The protests were sparked a policy change that limits the use of N95 masks amid a global shortage. They are now only to be used by medical staff involved in the most dangerous procedures involving intubations and ventilators in COVID-19-positive patients.

Tamara Gordon, a nurse, held a sign that said “Please Get Me PPE.” “The mask I’m wearing now doesn’t give you any protection against what we’re up against. I understand there is a crisis but they have to understand that we are the ones on the front lines. We don’t want to put our lives in danger and we don’t want to put our patients’ lives in danger either."

Unionized nurses were demonstrating at hospitals owned by HCA Healthcare Inc., the nation’s largest for-profit hospital operator, who implemented the mask policy.

Some of the nurses say they are prepared to refuse assignments if they are put in harm’s way.

Also on Thursday, nurses and medical professionals were protesting in Margate in front of Northwest Medical Center.

Northwest Medical Center sent a statement to Local 10.

"Throughout our response to COVID-19, our focus has been on protecting our colleagues and ensuring our people have enough personal protective equipment (PPE) in the midst of a global shortage of PPE. This includes a universal masking policy, consistent with CDC guidelines, that has been in place since the end of March and requires masks for everyone in patient care areas and N95 masks for those treating a COVID positive patient having an aerosolizing procedure. Our pandemic planning anticipates a response that will continue for several more weeks, and these guidelines will help ensure our staff will continue to be protected throughout this global health crisis.

We are directing and utilizing N95 for appropriate care of patients who require airborne isolation and for COVID positive and patients under investigation (PUIs) who are undergoing aerosol-generating procedures. For all other clinicians caring for COVID-19 patients, level 1 facemasks with full face shields are provided. The evidence suggests that COVID-19 is spread by droplets, for which a standard face mask offers adequate protection. We remain committed to protecting our frontline 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."

It was a similar scene in Kendall on Wednesday when dozens of nurses and other professionals from Kendall Regional Medical Regional were out protesting the lack of PPE.

That hospital did respond to the protesters, saying in part that, their focus has been in protecting their colleagues and ensuring people have enough of the required equipment. The hospital stated that they are following the CDC guidelines and that they are providing N95 masks to those who are providing care to COVID-19 positive patients.

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