Faced with shortages, Las Vegas Valley hospitals are rationing masks and other protective gear used by doctors, nurses and other staff to keep themselves and their patients safe.
Usually fluid, supplies are now treated like precious commodities as global demand has skyrocketed amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Henderson’s nurse, Geoconda Hughes, is among those pushing back.
âThey seem to think we are replaceable and the masks are not,â said Hughes, an intensive care unit nurse at St. Rose’s Dominican Hospital, Siena campus.
Hughes, a union representative, said she was expressing concerns she had heard from nurses in the valley struggling with supply shortages resulting from the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases. Nurses at several local hospitals have been ordered not to wear fitted N95 masks until patients with symptoms of COVID-19 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, she said.
Although the administration of Rose Dominican, Siena reiterated late last week that nurses can wear a mask before a patient tests positive, Hughes remains annoyed by what she and others consider to be changing standards.
Dignity Health-St. Dominican Rose Hospitals have acknowledged their concern about a “rapidly declining inventory,” leading the hospital to strictly follow retention guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spokesperson Gordon Absher wrote in a statement. He said, however, that due to the strict controls, Dominican Rose Hospitals have the necessary inventory to protect their staff.
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âTheir safety and their efforts to keep our patients safe is key to our healing mission,â Absher said.
Despite these assurances, Hughes’ concerns are echoed by frontline health workers at some of the valley’s other major hospitals, all of whom spoke to the Review-Journal on condition of anonymity, fearing retaliation from their employers.
The Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center only gives each worker one surgical mask per shift, an intensive care nurse said. Hospital chief medical officer Dr Jeff Murawsky said on Wednesday that masks are replaced mid-term if they become dirty or damaged, and those that are not are collected at the end of the day for a possible retreatment, a strategy that the hospital does not have. still employed.
Workers at several Valley Health System hospitals are required to treat at least five patients while wearing the same single-use N95 mask before receiving a new one, according to interviews with three employees. In at least one of the hospitals, other single-use protective equipment, such as surgical masks and caps, must be worn for an entire shift if the staff member is treating patients with the same diagnosis, said one of the workers.
Valley Health System spokeswoman Gretchen Papez was unable to comment on Wednesday.
âThis is the first time in my career that our hospitals have applied the less stringent requirements,â Hughes said earlier this week, after ending a 12-hour shift.
The changes come as hospitals across the country prepare for an anticipated increase in COVID-19 patients.
Respiratory disease can be spread by droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, according to the CDC. Masks can help prevent healthcare workers from inhaling these droplets or getting them in the mouth or nose.
But masks may become unavailable due to increased demand, the CDC wrote on its website last week. The federal agency has issued new guidelines allowing the use of homemade bandanas, scarves and other masks as a “last resort”, acknowledging their abilities to protect against transmission of COVID-19 are “unknown” .
Those on the front lines balk at changing standards.
âYou wouldn’t send a construction worker to a job site without a hard hat,â said the intensive care nurse at Sunrise Hospital. âJust because you run out of hard hats doesn’t mean you don’t need them anymore. “
And the changes underway have created a chaotic work environment, according to some hospital workers who spoke to the Review-Journal.
“Terrified of … doing my job”
âThe rules change so much that we don’t know if we are doing the right things for our patients and for ourselves,â said one of the nurses who asked that her employer not be identified. âIt terrifies me even to do my job. “
Murawsky of Sunrise Hospital wrote in an email that his hospital had made changes to retain protective gear based on recommendations from the CDC. He said no surgical masks are being reused at this time, but the hospital collects the used equipment so that it can be reprocessed if and when such a process is approved by the federal government.
âOur colleagues are our family, the heart and soul of our hospital,â he said. âWe will protect them and make sure they have the right equipment to provide excellent care to our patients at all times. “
But some workers said they believed the supply conservation measures could end up doing more harm than good. To complicate matters, a person infected with the coronavirus can be contagious before showing signs of the disease.
A nurse who asked that her hospital not be named said employees are required to continue coming to work even if they have been exposed to someone infected with the coronavirus, as long as they wear a mask and do not present symptoms themselves.
She is currently in quarantine because she started showing symptoms of COVID-19. However, she said her hospital was unable to test her for the disease.
âI was told to go through my own doctor or the emergency room,â she said.
Local and state public health authorities note that a nationwide shortage of protective equipment for physicians is felt at all levels of government and in the private sector.
Faced with strong demand across the country, hospitals and government agencies are now competing for resources with people who have started stockpiling masks, Southern Nevada Health District spokesperson Stephanie Bethel wrote in an email. The health district works with local governments to meet their needs.
The state received only about 25% of the protective gear it requested from the federal government, according to Shannon Litz, a spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services.
Litz said the state has started distributing gloves, gowns and masks from both federal resupply and from its own warehouse.
Another request was made to the federal government, but Gov. Steve Sisolak told a press conference on Tuesday that he expects to receive 25% of what has been ordered again.
A number of private companies and community organizations are sending masks to hospitals that they either have in stock or have purchased from private suppliers. Local residents also sew and donate homemade masks to hospitals.
Ensure the security
Hughes, who is 47 and has two teenage sons, said she knows how to keep herself and her family safe. She had treated patients with infectious diseases such as meningitis, shingles and tuberculosis, all without getting sick.
But now she takes her temperature every night before going home. She undresses in her garden before entering her house and immediately takes a shower.
She even sent her sons to live with her sister.
âI’m afraid my work environment will become more and more dangerous,â said Hughes.