Press Release

Survey of over 3,800 California nurses show employer, government disregard for RN and patient safety

Nurses hold signs "PPE is disposable, nurses are not"

Nurses report extremely high rates of PPE reuse, putting nurses and patients at risk; 10 nurses test positive for COVID-19 at an Orange County hospital

California Nurses Association/National Nurses United (CNA/NNU) has released data from its survey of more than 3,800 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).

Nurses are getting exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace. At West Anaheim Medical Center in Orange County, a patient was admitted and not identified as a PUI (patient under investigation for COVID-19) so nurses were not provided the necessary PPE to keep them safe. The patient later tested positive for COVID-19. As a result of the hospitals failure to identify the patient as PUI, nurses are getting sick; as of May 19, ten nurses tested positive for COVID-19 and have exposed an unknown number of RNs and patients.

Months into the pandemic, the virus continues to threaten communities across the country, and more than 100 nurses have died of COVID-19, said CNA/NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN. 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.

The survey results were gathered from both CNA unionized nurse members as well as nonunion nurses in California. The preliminary results cover the period April 15 to May 10 and include:

  • Nurses reported extremely high rates of reusing PPE: 88 percent 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.
  • A quarter—25 percent—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.
  • 73 percent 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.
  • 22 percent 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 further jeopardizes their health and safety, and their ability to protect their patients and families:

  • Some 83 percent of nurses reported they have not yet been tested: only about 17 percent of respondents have been tested 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.

Adding insult to injury, California hospitals received nearly $4 billion from federal COVID-19 pandemic funding as well as access to subsidies through FEMA’s public assistance program which will cover 75 percent of PPE costs for nonprofit hospitals and health systems.

“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 CNA/NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN. “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.”

The California Nurses Association/National Nurses United is the largest and fastest growing union and professional association of registered nurses in the nation with 100,000 members in more than 200 facilities throughout California and more than 150,000 RNs nationwide.