Nurses of Cambridge Health Alliance to Hold Press Conference Outside Cambridge Hospital on Wednesday, May 20 at 2 p.m. to Sound the Alarm about Dangerous Conditions that Threaten the Safety of CHA Patients, Staff and Their Families During Pandemic
Nurses delivered a petition to CEO signed by 72 percent of the nurses at the three CHA facilities in Cambridge, Everett and Somerville demanding access to appropriate PPE, occupational presumption and hazard pay as nearly 150 CHA workers have tested positive for COVID-19 - CHA's CEO has refused to meet with the nurses or address any of their concerns
The concerns of nurses at CHA represent a growing storm of outrage by nurses across the Commonwealth, as healthcare employers and the State refuse to acknowledge dangerous PPE insufficiencies or take appropriate action to protect the lives of essential workers
CAMBRIDGE, Mass., May 19, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- As nurses at Cambridge Health Alliance continue working every day utilizing substandard personal protective equipment in the midst of a deadly pandemic, they have united in an effort to convince their administration and their board of trustees to finally provide them with the protection they need for the safety of themselves, their families and their patients.
CHA nurses from the Cambridge, Everett and Somerville Hospital campuses will be meeting with the press outside of CHA Cambridge Hospital, 1493 Cambridge St., at 2:00 PM on Wednesday, May 20th to share these urgent concerns with the public. Nurses will also be available for interviews with interested media via zoom upon request.
Last week, a delegation of CHA nurses delivered a petition to senior management signed by over 72 percent of the system's 700 nurses, which stated in part:
"We have worked and continue to work under conditions of tremendous challenge and adversity: severe staffing shortages in the context of heightened patient acuity, core equipment shortages, turbulent changes in policy and practice… we continue to risk exposure to COVID-19 on every single shift while providing the care that is needed, countless informally documented exposures have already occurred even under faithful adherence to evolving PPE policy and the mask re-use program, internal testing and contact tracing interventions remain insufficient, and we lack affordable access to alternate housing and childcare for protection of our loved ones." The full text of the petition is included at the end of this release.
"Our patients' lives, as well as our own lives and the lives of our loved ones have been put at risk by the lack of access to appropriate personal protective equipment, which is the result of the largest-scale violation of occupational health and safety standards in history, during a pandemic that requires the highest standard possible to protect our community and ourselves," said Donna Mondeau, RN, a critical care nurse and chair of the nurses MNA local bargaining unit at CHA Cambridge Hospital. "But now, our administration and CEO refuse to work with us to address these problems, while more and more of our staff and patients are exposed to this virus."
The nurses cite the ongoing lack of proper personal protective equipment, including having to reuse N95 masks that have been treated by an unproven decontamination process, the lack of foot and head coverings, and early on in the pandemic, the lack of clean gowns, which forced the nurses on one unit to experiment with trash bags to keep them safe (see photo below). Also, nurses at CHA recently produced a video demonstrating the PPE used at the facility, as well as how it falls short of what is required, which can be viewed here.
"When nurses have appropriate personal protective equipment, everyone is safer: our patients, our staff and our community," said Carla Cerrato, a critical care nurse and co-chair of the MNA local bargaining unit for nurses at CHA Everett Hospital. "However, CHA is still requiring us to reuse our N95 masks multiple times, which is against the manufacturers' recommendations. We have reached out to our CEO so that we can explain the situation and the importance of having safe and appropriate protection, not only here in Everett, but for all staff throughout the system."
"The CHA administration is not providing the clinic nurses and Nurse Practitioners with a policy to ensure that the type of PPE that is used is dictated by the safest practices of public health," added Karen Lefkowitz, APRN, a nurse practitioner from the Somerville Hospital. "The refusal to do this has put both patients and nurses at unnecessary additional risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19."
Autumn St. Hilaire, an RN working in CHA Cambridge Hospital's 32-bed COVID telemetry unit, along with her colleagues, has felt uneasy throughout the pandemic due to the administration's changing guidelines and protocols and the fact that the truly pressing issues on the COVID floor too often don't get addressed. "In the beginning, nurses who were wearing masks were ordered to take them off in the hallways and other areas, despite the risk that posed to the public and ourselves, so as not to raise alarm," St. Hilaire explained. "It seems, like with many of the issues we are seeing, there is more of an emphasis on image than safety."
Most recently, in addition to the lack of PPE for staff, St. Hilaire has become concerned about the lack of proper monitoring of COVID patients, particularly the availability of telemetry monitors with alarm systems to monitor and alert nurses to sudden changes in the patients oxygen levels, which is crucial to preventing these patients from experiencing rapid respiratory failure. The 32-bed unity only has 16 of the appropriate monitors, and as an alternative, the hospital has implemented a plan where baby monitors are used, which are monitored remotely by staff, to check on a patient's oxygen levels.
"This is not a safe system, and we can't understand why we don't have the appropriate monitoring and proper alarms for every patient," she said. "The public comes to us expecting we have all the tools we need to save their lives, whether it be PPE or monitoring equipment, and right now, we just don't. That is why we want to meet with our CEO, so that he has a true picture of what is really happening at this hospital, so that better decisions can be made to fulfill our mission of protecting the public."
CHA and Other Hospitals Refuse to Be Accountable for Nurses' Workplace Exposure
At least 149 CHA workers have tested positive for COVID-19. Upon its most recent instance of communication with the nurses' union about rates of workplace-acquired infections, CHA claimed that 0% of employee infections were workplace-acquired. This is similar to the stance taken by hospital systems across the Commonwealth, where employers are skirting responsibility for paying worker'scompensation claims by asserting that healthcare worker infections are community-acquired.
Massachusetts is now fourth in the nation for infection rates for COVID-19. Local media reports more than 2,200 healthcare workers have been infected in Massachusetts and this does not include several facilities in which these numbers are unknown, and which also doesn't account for the fact that most hospitals, including Cambridge Health Alliance, refuse to provide widespread testing of staff to truly determine the rate of exposure and infection. Several states have already acted to protect these workers by passing legislation or issuing executive orders and has prompted Massachusetts legislators to file pending legislation granting all nurses the occupational presumption that any exposure to COVID-19 is deemed to have occurred at work, providing staff with all requisite benefits for the harm done to them.
The petition circulated by the nurses calls for access to new, unused N95 respirators, occupational presumption, expanded employee testing, and hazard pay for all essential workers at CHA, in light of the exposure risks employees have already assumed in order to continue caring for patients and operating facilities during the pandemic. Hazard pay has already been provided to healthcare workers in state facilities operated by the Commonwealth, and two legislative initiatives are moving in the State House that would expand this benefit to include all public and private-sector essential workers.
"We're proud of our mission-driven public organization, but the message we're getting from administration and management is that we need to shut up and accept these unsafe conditions for the good of the community," said Jillian Brelsford, RN, a nurse on one of Cambridge Hospital's COVID floors. "This doesn't add up because patients are more likely to be exposed to the virus when staff don't have appropriate PPE and other appropriate protocols in place. Additionally, CHA workers ARE the community. The patients we're taking care of are essential workers like us, who got sick working in grocery stores and warehouses and nursing homes. Our petition demands include everybody at CHA, not just nurses. We included all of our essential co-workers, from housekeeping to medicine to dietary workers, secretaries, and public safety."
Cambridge Health Alliance CEO Dr. Assaad Sayah has declined two requests from the nurses to schedule a meeting to discuss the petition and associated concerns. The nurses are now taking their message to the public they care for.
Concerns Raised by CHA Nurses Shared by Nurses Throughout the Commonwealth as Nurses Call Out the Widespread Failure to Protect Them During Pandemic
The concerns and the alarm raised by nurses at Cambridge Health Alliance are far from unique, and in fact they are symptomatic of a growing firestorm of outrage throughout the state and national nursing community as employers, state and federal governments, and even the CDC and the Department of Public Health have taken active steps to undermine the safety of frontline workers throughout this pandemic. All stakeholders are responsible for failing to prepare for and respond to the pandemic, to utilize all available resources to ensure the production of appropriate PPE, and when the resulting shortages emerged, regulatory bodies purposefully lowered standards under lobbying pressure from a hospital industry hellbent on avoiding responsibility for the situation. Now, health systems, like Cambridge Health Alliance, cite those lowered standards to justify their provision of substandard protection for staff.
"They need to stop calling us heroes and starting treating like the vulnerable human beings working in an extremely stressful and hazardous environment," said Donna Kelly-Williams, RN, President of the Massachusetts Nurses Association and herself, a nurse who spent more than 30 years working at Cambridge Hospital prior to her retirement. "They are using unproven, half measures, willfully experimenting with our lives and the lives of our families, and it is obscene."
In the last two months, nurses working at hospitals from Pittsfield to Worcester to Cape Cod; from Salem to Wareham have gone public with their concerns for their safety and the safety of their patients due to lack of PPE, poor staffing, unnecessary furloughs and staffing cuts, as well as the closure of needed services as their employers have continued to fail to heed nurses concerns and calls for a safer approach to confronting this unprecedented crisis.
"This virus is not going away anytime soon, and if we don't listen to our frontline caregivers and provide them with the tools they need to keep us safe, thousands more of us will suffer, and many will die from our negligence," Kelly-Williams concluded.
Below is the full text of the Cambridge Health Alliance petition:
WHEREAS, nurses and our frontline co-workers throughout the CHA system are rising to the challenges of the COVID-19 emergency with dedication, compassion, flexibility, teamwork, and courageous commitment to the goals of our community health organization and the needs of our patients;
WHEREAS, we have worked and continue to work under conditions of tremendous challenge and adversity: severe staffing shortages in the context of heightened patient acuity, core equipment shortages, turbulent changes in policy and practice, new situations requiring our interventions as patient safety advocates, and evolving community needs requiring rapid adaptation to alternate practice areas;
WHEREAS, we continue to risk exposure to COVID-19 on every single shift while providing the care that is needed, countless informally documented exposures have already occurred even under faithful adherence to evolving PPE policy and the mask re-use program, internal testing and contact tracing interventions remain insufficient, and we lack affordable access to alternate housing and childcare for protection of our loved ones;
WHEREAS, more of our co-workers are testing positive for COVID-19 with each passing day, and their illnesses remain unrecognized and unacknowledged as workplace-acquired infections;
WHEREAS, we are supplying countless hours of voluntary overtime on days, nights and weekends while enduring physical danger, while bearing first-hand witness to the devastating respiratory failure and terrible suffering caused by COVID-19, and while risking adverse effects from new forms of chemical exposure;
WHEREAS, all healthcare workers in New York State are now entitled via executive order to receive one new and unused N95 respirator per shift worked, licensed healthcare workers within Massachusetts state facilities are receiving deserved hazard pay equivalent to $10 per hour, unlicensed healthcare workers in Massachusetts state facilities are receiving deserved hazard pay equivalent to $5.00 per hour, and CHA nurses with pensions remain subject to consequences of misclassification;
The nurses of the Massachusetts Nurses Association of Cambridge Health Alliance and our supporters hereby call upon CHA to provide all on-site essential workers with one new, unused, and properly fitting N95 respirator per shift worked. If testing is not made available at a CHA facility, there should be remote healthcare worker-only testing sites available that quickly and without hurdles test and report back results. All healthcare workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of this crisis must be presumed to have acquired the virus at work.
Additionally, we hereby call upon CHA to provide all on-site essential workers with current and retroactive hourly hazard pay equivalent to compensation extended to state healthcare workers. The hazard pay period shall extend from March 10th, the initial date of the Massachusetts state of emergency, shall last at least until the state of emergency ends, and shall expire no sooner than June 15th.
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.