At virtual press conference briefing on Covid surge, nurses urge employers, government, public to “Listen to nurses”
Watch the full November 23, 2020 press conference
RNs foresee catastrophic death and suffering if nation does not correct course
At a virtual press conference held Monday, Nov. 23 to brief the nation on the challenges they face now as Covid-19 surges in almost every state, National Nurses United RNs impassionately urged their employers, government, and the public to “Listen to nurses” and follow the science of infection control that the country needs to mitigate the catastrophic death and suffering they are anticipating heading into the winter and holiday seasons.
Nurses from a number of hotspot areas, including Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Texas, and Florida, shared emotional stories about the moral distress they are experiencing while trying their best to care for Covid-19 and other patients, but still without access to optimal personal protective equipment, without safe staffing levels, without access to testing for themselves and all patients, and without other sound infection control policies.
Press conference speakers:
- Michelle Mahon, RN, assistant director of nursing practice, National Nurses United
- Jean Ross, RN based in Minnesota, a president of National Nurses United
- Marissa Lee, RN in FL at Osceola Regional Medical Center, vice president of National Nurses United
- Consuelo Vargas, RN, ER nurse in Chicago
- Juan Anchondo, RN, Las Palmas Medical Center in El Paso
- Christina Hanson, RN, member of Michigan Nurses Association, which is an affiliate of NNU
- Mary Turner, RN, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, which is an affiliate of NNU
- Bonnie Castillo, RN, executive director of National Nurses United
Nurses are demanding that the presidential administration immediately invoke the Defense Production Act to start producing PPE domestically in the quantities needed for health care and other essential workers, and for the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration to issue a national emergency temporary standard on infectious diseases to protect workers.
“We need leadership. We need leadership in the hospital, we need leadership in the government,” said Consuelo Vargas, an ER nurse in Chicago. “We need transparency, and we need everyone to listen to the nurses. That means the hospital administration, that means the government, that means everyday citizens. You need to listen to the nurses...Social distance. Wear a mask. Avoid large crowds. I know the holiday season is upon us. Are you willing to give up one holiday season for 10 more? Think of everything you want to accomplish in your life, the places you want to go, the things you want to do, the people you want to spend time with. Are you willing to give all that up?”
Marissa Lee, an RN from Florida and an NNU executive vice president, described her state and her hospital as a “hot mess” and listed all the ways her facility, Osceola Regional Medical Center, is not following proper infection control measures. Not all nurses at her hospital get N95 or better respirators and the ones who do have to wear the single-use-only masks for 12 hours or more, not all nurses and patients are tested, units are not staffed safely, the hospital has not stopped elective surgeries, and more. “Nurses can handle stress. I am the Queen of Stress. What I cannot handle is not being able to care for my patients the way I know we should and can, if we have the right staffing, equipment, and resources,” said Lee.
“Nurses are tough, but as strong and dedicated as our nurses are, what we are doing is not sustainable,” said Christina Hanson, an RN from Michigan and a member of the Michigan Nurses Association. ”We see the cases climbing across the country and are anxious for what’s to come. We need change.”
“I have an 11-year-old son. I don’t want to take Covid home to my family,” said Juan Anchondo, an El Paso RN. “We are tired, mentally, physically, and emotionally, but we do get energized when we fight back and speak up. The infections keep going up and it feels like there’s no end in sight. So nurses in El Paso have been speaking up in support of the stay home order...Please wear masks, avoid large gatherings, and stay home unless you absolutely need to be out.”
“We’re seeing surges across Minnesota, and across the country. But we are not prepared with the resources we need to keep workers and patients safe,” said Mary Turner, an ICU Covid RN and president of the Minnesota Nurses Association. “This means nurses are anxious and scared because we know the right way to battle this virus and take care of patients. [But] it’s clear our employers and the government do not support us. We’re trying to care for patients despite limited supplies, limited staff, a rapid decline in hospital beds. Meanwhile, we know that we could get sick or infect our families.”
“We call on local, state, and federal leaders to stop politicizing what is actually a matter of public health -- to issue mask mandates, and to take strong measures to protect the public,” said Bonnie Castillo, RN and NNU executive director. “We demand our employers invest in optimal protections. We urge the public to stay home this holiday season, to make sure that this time next year, no one is missing from the dining table.”
Nurses have been warning since January that the exact situation the country is now going through would happen if we did not follow the precautionary principle to err on the side of safety in response to this virus. The profit motive has, devastatingly, driven national decision making on Covid response, say nurses. Nearly a year later, hospitals and government agencies responsible for public and worker health and safety have still not gotten their act together. NNU’s latest, ongoing survey of more than 15,000 registered nurses shows that the vast majority of their hospital employers have knowingly failed to prepare for the winter cold and flu season: 82 percent of hospitals have done no surge capacity or planning. Click here for more information on the survey results.
More than 11.6 million people in the United States have been infected, resulting in upwards of a quarter million deaths -- among which were more than 2,150 health care worker deaths that included at least 253 registered nurses.
In addition to immediately implementing science-based infection control measures and policies, NNU nurses urge Congress to pass a Covid-relief bill now that would provide the economic, health care, and social assistance people and small businesses in the United States need to stay at home or close shop until our infection rates are brought down to manageable levels.