By TIM ROWDEN
Registered nurses at SSM Saint Louis University Hospital (SLUH) held an early morning rally outside the hospital at South Grand Blvd. and Rutger St. last week to demand more personal protective equipment and better protections for nurses, hospital workers and patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The nurses say the hospital isn’t providing them with new, unused N95 respirator masks. They say the hospital also isn’t telling them if they’ve been exposed to the virus in a timely manner and is forcing them to work if they are asymptomatic, instead of quarantining for two weeks, per Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines.
Earline Shephard, a SLUH trauma nurse and nurse representative for the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United, said she was exposed to COVID-19 but did not find out until more than a week later, through a conversation with a coworker.
“Our new hospital is impressive, but beautiful doesn’t save lives,” Shephard said. “Patients are waiting in the halls of the Emergency Department to be treated. We’re still trying to staff all these new beds and now the hospital wants to place patients in areas where staff aren’t trained for that kind of patient. Nurses are struggling to care for patients without sufficient staff, PPE and basic supplies – in the middle of a pandemic.”
COMPLAINT FILED WITH OSHA
The nurses have filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) over the lack of adequate PPE and inadequate infection control policies for preventing the spread of COVID-19.
NNOC/NNU says the hospital’s current policies violate infection disease protocol because they allow nurses to care for COVID-19 positive patients near non-COVID-19 patients or they require nurses to continue working after being exposed to COVID-19, putting patients, co-workers and their families at risk.
So far, the hospital has not agreed to the union’s proposals for respirators, timely notification of exposure, or paid quarantine after exposure or infection.
CONFUSION, DELAYS IN INFORMATION
“Information about COVID-19 is changing daily, and it can be hard to keep track, but you’d expect the hospital caring for you to be following the latest science,” said Kellie Allen, an RN and NNOC/NNU nurse representative at SLUH.
“Instead, we’re seeing confusion and delays in information. We’re not allowed to wear our own N95s to keep ourselves safe. Sometimes my colleagues don’t even find out until a week later that they were exposed at work without proper PPE.”
“We’ve had several events where multiple staff got sick in a department, and it was preventable,” said Allen.
“The ministry of SSM began during an infectious disease outbreak” during the 1874 smallpox pandemic. “It is unfortunate that we have stepped so far away from their mission during the current health care crisis.”