New survey of nurses provides frontline proof of widespread employer, government disregard for nurse and patient safety, mainly through lack of optimal PPE
Nurses report extremely high rates of PPE reuse, putting nurses and the patients they come into contact with at risk, while Congress and President Trump continue to resist its mass production
National Nurses United (NNU) has released data from its new nationwide survey of nearly 23,000 nurses, revealing that dangerous health care workplace conditions have become the norm since COVID-19 struck the United States, which nurses say shows a complete disregard for worker and public health on the part of health care employers and the government. The main way nurses and patients are put at risk is through lack of optimal personal protective equipment (PPE).
“Months into the pandemic, the virus continues to threaten communities across the country, and more than 100 nurses have died of COVID-19. This new survey shows that nurses are still fighting today for optimal personal protective equipment (PPE), fighting to get tested, and fighting for their own lives, and their patients’ lives,” said NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN.
For further quotes and downloadable visuals/sound, click here to listen to NNU Presidents Jean Ross, RN; Zenei Cortez, RN; and Deborah Burger, RN discuss the survey results: https://vimeo.com/420099901
Nurses and other health care workers continue to find themselves abandoned at COVID-19’s front lines, without PPE. Despite nurses’ demands, President Trump has made no effort to mass produce N95 respirators using the Defense Production Act. Many hospitals still keep PPE under lock and key when they have it, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration never addressed nurses’ demands to pass emergency temporary standards that would have mandated employers provide optimal PPE.
“Dr. Rick Bright’s testimony to Congress last week came as no surprise to us. Nurses on the front lines are dying as evidence of it. He calls it indifference – we call it willful negligence,” says Castillo. “We can’t even say they failed, because that would imply they tried.”
The survey results were gathered from both NNU unionized nurse members as well as nonunion nurses in all 50 states plus Washington, D.C. and four U.S. territories. The preliminary results cover the period April 15 to May 10 and include:
● Nurses reported extremely high rates of reusing PPE: 87% of respondents reported having to reuse a single-use disposable respirator or mask with a COVID-19 patient. Reusing single-use PPE increases exposures to patients, nurses, and other staff; and is improper infection control that would not have been allowed prior to the pandemic, say nurses.
● More than a quarter—28%—of respondents had to reuse a so-called ‘decontaminated’ respirator with confirmed COVID-19 patients. Decontamination of respirators has not been shown to be safe or effective, can degrade the respirator so that it no longer offers protection, and some methods use chemicals that are toxic to breathe, say nurses, who emphasize employers are increasingly implementing PPE decontamination to save money.
● 72% of nurses reported having exposed skin or clothing when caring for suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients, leaving patients, nurses, and other health care workers at risk of being exposed to the virus.
● 27% of nurses providing care to confirmed COVID-19 patients reported having been exposed without the appropriate PPE and having worked within 14 days of exposure. This puts their coworkers, and their patients, in danger, say nurses, who continue to demand that employers provide protections at work.
Survey results also show that after nurses are exposed to the virus in dangerous working conditions, a lack of testing or paid time off further jeopardizes their health and safety, and their ability to protect their patients and families:
● Some 84% of nurses reported they have not yet been tested: only about 16% of respondents have been tested for COVID-19.
● Of those nurses who have been tested, more than 500 nurses reported a positive result with another 500-plus nurses still waiting for results when taking the survey.
● A third of nurses reported that their employer requires them to use their own sick leave, vacation, or paid time off if a nurse gets COVID-19 or is exposed to COVID-19 and needs to self-quarantine. If a nurse contracts COVID-19, the illness should be presumed to be work-related and covered by workers’ compensation, say nurses, who call for states to pass bills ensuring that nurses are protected with presumptive eligibility for COVID-19.
Nurses say that these current unsafe conditions were preventable. Other countries, including Taiwan and South Korea, have shown that implementing immediate protective measures and widespread testing can limit patients’, nurses’, and other health care workers’ infection and death rates.
“The richest country in the world will call nurses heroes without even bothering to invest in mass producing N95 respirators and other equipment to keep nurses alive,” says Castillo. “Nurses signed up to care for their patients. They did not sign up to die needlessly on the front lines of a pandemic. Our message to employers and the Trump administration is: Platitudes are empty without protections. For our sake, for the public’s sake—give us PPE.”
During this epidemic, NNU has been the leading nursing organization advocating for both union and nonunion RNs, including outreach by text to more than 1.4 million non-member nurses across the country to provide information and resources on COVID-19.
National Nurses United is the nation’s largest and fastest-growing union and professional association of direct-care registered nurses, with more than 150,000 members nationwide.