Santa Rosa nurses rally over mask shortages, hospital policies on safety gear
Nurses working at Kaiser Permanente’s Santa Rosa hospital and Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital say they face perilous restrictions on wearing N95 respirator masks that put them at greater risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.
Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, which includes the health care system’s Santa Rosa facility, faces a raft of complaints filed with state workplace safety regulators over inadequate access to masks, which have fallen into short supply recently as the coronavirus pandemic spreads around the world.
Nurses working at Kaiser in Santa Rosa rallied their ranks in protest Monday over new policies they say could get them fired or suspended from their jobs if they wear masks, even those donated to them by friends and neighbors.
“I’ve never seen such desperate times,” said Chelsea Carrera, a Kaiser nurse and union steward. “It’s very scary that they’re going down a disciplinary path.”
It’s unclear if any nurse at Kaiser has been fired or put on leave for wearing an N95 mask, which provide better protection against tiny airborne viral particles than looser fitting surgical masks or makeshift face protection, outside of treating a COVID-19 patient. Nurses want masks that provide more protection, and not just for their own safety but for well-being of the patients they treat during their shifts and the families and friends they see when they’re off the clock.
“We’re in danger without adequate personal protective equipment,” said Cyndi Krahne, the chief nurse representative among unionized Kaiser nurses, “and in turn we put everybody at risk if we’re not protected.”
Kaiser, in a statement, disputed the notion that nurses could face discipline related to wearing masks, including those they brought from home.
“We provide the appropriate medical-grade protective equipment for the protocols and level of patient care being provided,” Kaiser said in a statement. “We cannot assure the integrity of protective equipment not provided by Kaiser Permanente.”
Kaiser also said it was “paramount that our caregivers have the right level of protective equipment, and we are committed to ensuring they do — now and over the course of this pandemic.”
“We are grateful to our entire nursing staff for their dedication to our patients,” Kaiser said. “We understand this is a stressful time and we encourage staff to raise concerns. We are in this fight together and we remain committed to protecting our valued care teams, including our nurses who are at the front line of care, as we continue to ensure the safety of our patients and staff.”
The increasingly public dispute comes days after nurses at both facilities told The Press Democrat that they faced the prospect of grim shortages of safety gear at the hospitals as administrators braced for a peak in local COVID-19 cases.
Some nurses at Kaiser were told to prepare to cut surgical scrubs into makeshift masks to protect themselves.
Cal/OSHA sent a letter to Kaiser last week informing hospital officials of multiple employee complaints of failing to provide necessary equipment and use proper precautions when treating suspected COVID-19 cases. The letter notes that it is “not a citation or a notification of a proposed penalty.”
There were 29 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Sonoma County by Monday and more than 43,000 in the U.S. However, those numbers are misleading, as they don’t include the untold number of unconfirmed cases that haven’t been identified due to insufficient testing and carriers who show little or no symptoms.