Nurses in Sonoma, Marin counties voice outrage over shortage of protective masks, other equipment
Nurses in Sonoma and Marin counties on the front lines in the local coronavirus outbreak are preparing for the day they may have to cut surgical scrubs into makeshift masks to protect themselves from contracting the widening infectious disease at work.
Others are leaning on family members to provide homemade protective masks fashioned out of cloth and filters bought online, multiple Kaiser Permanente nurses said Thursday.
At Kaiser's San Rafael Medical Center, when N95 masks are given out, nurses are instructed to store them in brown paper bags between reuses, Colleen Gibbons, a surgical nurse there, told the Marin Independent Journal. Such respirators because they better control the flow of air have been deemed more effective than surgical masks in protecting workers from the virus.
“They’re basically taking away the N95 masks and telling us we can use a simple mask,” Gibbons told the publication. A group of Kaiser nurses protested outside the hospital Thursday afternoon.
MarinHealth Medical Center in Greenbrae is following a similar procedure, Lynn Warner, a critical care nurse there told the newspaper.
Administrators at both facilities told the Independent Journal they are following Centers for Disease Control guidelines for what to do in a shortage of N95 respirators. Previous guidelines dictated that health care workers don N95 respirators around patients who tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, and the patients were put in negative-pressure isolation rooms, but now the CDC is recommending N95 masks and such isolation only when those patients are undergoing procedures for the deadly pneumonia symptoms that can put the virus into the air.
"Everyone is on Plan B," Marin County Public Health Officer Matt Willis told the Independent Journal.
That’s how bad the global shortage of respirator masks appears to have become locally amid the viral pandemic sweeping the world, straining the supply of health care equipment relied on by nurses and physicians to safeguard themselves, patients and others from a deadly disease.
In Sonoma County, the shortage of safety equipment has prompted an outcry from nurses who are demanding better protective measures, including greater access to a tightening supply of respirator masks, and more information at the local hospitals where they serve as primary staff in the pandemic response.
Without proper gear, the nurses fear for their ability to protect themselves, their colleagues, patients, neighbors and loved ones at home.
“Nurses have become extremely frustrated and angry because there isn’t clear communication. There isn’t clear transparency,” said Deborah Burger, a nurse at Kaiser who is co-president of National Nurses United and president of the California Nurses Association, which represents nurses at the Sutter and Kaiser Permanente hospitals in Santa Rosa.
Nurses at Sutter Health Santa Rosa Regional Hospital have signed a letter accusing the hospital of failing to protect workers and demanding they follow strict state guidelines that call for them to use respirator masks — not looser-fitting surgical masks, and definitely not bandanas or scarves, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now is suggesting as face masks of last resort.
Those complaints echo criticism from local nurses at Kaiser Permanente and Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and come as nurses and doctors around the country are pleading for help dealing with a shortage of critical personal protective equipment, including respirator masks and face shields that can help prevent transmission of the coronavirus.