SALEM, Mass., April 14, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- The registered nurses of North Shore Medical Center, represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, are calling on NSMC President Dr. David Roberts and Partners HealthCare to step up efforts to protect and support nurses and healthcare workers on the front lines and be more transparent about the challenges facing staff as the COVID-19 surge hits.
Recent comments by Dr. Roberts about the readiness of NSMC amid the COVID-19 pandemic prompted NSMC nurses to shine a spotlight on their concerns. "We have a lot of resources here," Dr. Roberts told WBUR. "We've been planning for this for a long time. Most hospitals have surge plans in place for the last 50 years. So this isn't Groundhog Day where you just have to figure it out every day."
NSMC nurses report a very different experience.
"Our nurses are facing an unprecedented crisis and have answered the call due to the huge influx of Covid-19 patients at NSMC," said Kathy Schevis, RN at NSMC and Co-Chair of the MNA Bargaining Committee. "The reality of what we face on the front lines at North Shore Medical Center is much different than what is being portrayed to the public. Our staff are being stretched to their breaking point."
"Nurses caring for COVID-19 patients have had to hunt down their PPE and nurses have unknowingly cared for infected patients without N95 masks and proper PPE," Schevis said. "Staff are being trained on the spot to care for our tremendous number of critically ill patients. Per our critical care colleagues, we do not have enough standard ventilators and nurses are being floated with minimal orientation, which creates a need for concern."
NSMC nurses are calling for:
Universal N95 Precautions. In recognition of the highly contagious nature of the virus and the likelihood of asymptomatic exposure, all frontline staff should be provided with N95 masks, eye protection, hospital-issued scrubs and gowns. NSMC/Partners has not agreed to this safety standard.
COVID-19 Testing Transparency. The hospital is not consistently telling nurses if they have potentially been exposed to the virus, or who could have exposed them. Nurses need more information from NSMC about what patients or staff they have come into contact with who have tested positive. This will help protect staff and limit spread of the virus.
Incorporate Frontline Perspective. NSMC management must listen to and incorporate the perspective and feedback of nurses and other healthcare workers on the front lines of this pandemic. Caregivers at the bedside know what is working and what is not. There must be follow-through on recommendations made by frontline staff for the COVID-19 fight to be effective and the safest possible for staff and their families.
Background on Asymptomatic Spread of COVID-19
Infectious disease experts studying COVID-19 have detailed how infected people can be asymptomatic for periods of time and be able to spread the virus to others, supporting the need for universal N95 precautions for frontline healthcare workers.
Dr. William Hillmann, associate inpatient physician director at Massachusetts General Hospital, told the Guardian, "A significant proportion of people who are totally asymptomatic are contagious for some portion of time. We just don't know [for how long] at this point, because we don't have the kind of testing available to screen for asymptomatic infections."
Massachusetts Nurses Association PPE Recommendations
Despite the CDC's weakening of its PPE guidelines during the outbreak, the MNA maintains that healthcare workers should be provided the PPE under previous CDC guidelines and World Health Organization standards. The MNA also calls for everyone frontline healthcare worker to be able to use an N95 mask to limit spread within their facility and flatten the curve in their communities.
"We reiterate in the strongest possible way that we should assume all patients are COVID-19 positive," RN and MNA President Donna Kelly-Williams wrote in her March 31, 2020 letter to Gov. Charlie Baker. "The answer is not to save for the coming crises – the crisis is here. We must utilize all available PPE to avoid making the crisis worse. Our efforts need to be focused on maintaining the best standard possible with what is available in order to avoid spread among patients and hospital staff."
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.