BOSTON, Sept. 28, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- The 3,400 registered nurses of Brigham and Women's Hospital, represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, have decided to take public their concerns about how the hospital is handling an ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 cases because hospital executives have not effectively enforced the hospital's own visitor, masking and social distancing policies and have refused to implement safety recommendations nurses have been advocating for since the beginning of the pandemic.
The Brigham nurses are calling for a return during this current outbreak to the hospital policy in place during the first COVID-19 surge which restricted visitors unless they fell under specific exemptions, such as a labor and delivery support person, someone visiting a terminally ill patient or someone supporting a patient with specialized communication needs. The hospital does not require visitor testing, at least one visitor has tested positive during the current COVID-19 cluster, and nurses are reporting seeing many more members of the public inside the hospital.
"Our absolute priority as Brigham nurses is to keep patients safe and the hospital's lax compliance with COVID-19 safety protections is making that extremely difficult," said Trish Powers, OR nurse and Chair of the Brigham MNA Bargaining Unit. "Nurses are on the frontlines of this pandemic and we know what it takes to stop the spread and keep patients, staff and our communities safe.
"Unfortunately, hospital executives have not always listened to our expertise and have created an environment where policies around visitors, masking and social distancing are either not being followed or are not strong enough," Powers said. "Massachusetts could be on the verge of a second surge as positive numbers trend upward statewide and the flu season approaches. We need to be especially vigilant in a hospital where nurses and other staff treat medically complex patients and thousands of people come and go every day."
Nurses Call for Enhanced Visitor Safety
Assessing the current COVID-19 cluster, Brigham nurses decided to advocate for a return to the previous visitor policy that was in place during the spring surge. Right now, the cafeteria is typically packed with members of the public and the hospital often fails to enforce visitor masking requirements in waiting rooms, hallways, and other areas. Hospital policy generally limits patients to one visitor, but nurses are seeing multiple visitors going to see patients. In labor and delivery, the hospital is allowing more than one support person in some cases, without a testing requirement.
"We know how important it is for laboring mothers to have a support person with them, but we are increasingly concerned about the safety of staff and newborn babies," said Kelly Morgan, labor and delivery nurse and Vice Chair of the Brigham MNA Bargaining Unit. "An extra support person means extra risk, especially when labor and delivery can require people to be in close contact for hours. Why is the hospital hesitant to test support people? Testing will enhance the safety of the entire staff while we care for patients and their loved ones. Testing support people involved in labor and delivery is basic common sense."
Brigham Nurse COVID-19 Recommendations
Brigham nurses have been advocating since the beginning of the pandemic for safety standards that could help stop the spread of the virus inside the hospital and in our communities. Mass General Brigham/Brigham and Women's Hospital executives have refused to implement nurses' recommendations such as those below, leaving staff and patients more vulnerable to infection.
Universal N95 masking. MGB executives have refused to supply every nurse caring for patients with an N95 mask. Any patient – and anyone in contact with patients – may have COVID-19 because the virus can spread without symptoms.
Shuttle Safety. MGB continues to operate shuttles for nurses and other staff members at the Brigham significantly outside widely accepted safe social distancing standards and has refused to implement a 50% capacity limit that would better limit the risk of exposure to nurses and their patients.
Infection Communication. MGB has refused to notify staff if a patient or staff member on their hospital unit is positive for COVID-19 unless they have been in close contact completely without a mask for 15 minutes or more. Nurses have advocated for more transparency that reflects possible spread of the virus even when someone is wearing a non-N95 type of mask. Nurses should be able to make well-informed decisions for their health and the health of their families.
Effective Quarantine. The hospital is having nurses come to work who live with someone who may have COVID-19 or has tested positive if the nurse has no symptoms. It is widely known that COVID-19 can spread without symptoms.
Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 23,000 members advance the nursing profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting the economic and general welfare of nurses in the workplace, projecting a positive and realistic view of nursing, and by lobbying the Legislature and regulatory agencies on health care issues affecting nurses and the public.