Registered nurses at Port Charlotte’s Fawcett Memorial Hospital joined 14 other HCA Healthcare hospitals around the nation Wednesday in protesting the company’s alleged lack of preparedness for the coronavirus pandemic.
However, as the three nurses in attendance at the beginning of the demonstration were headed toward the outside of the emergency room of the hospital they work in, they were swiftly told to get off the property by security.
The plan was for members of a nurses union that a majority of Fawcett’s nurses belong to, National Nurses United, or NNU, to survey their colleagues on whether they have adequate personal protective equipment, or PPE, and showing these results on a large survey board. Some other hospitals, such as Doctors Hospital of Sarasota, held their demonstrations Thursday.
“Fawcett Memorial Hospital is doing everything we can to equip our patient care teams to provide safe, effective care to the people we serve, unwavering in our dedication despite the unique challenges presented by COVID-19,” said hospital spokesperson Alexandria Benjamin. “The National Nurses Union is trying to use this crisis to advance its own interest. The couple of members who arrived on our campus this evening were asked to leave as our focus at this time remains on patient care.”
The NNU demanded through this display that HCA provide the optimal PPE, for nurses and staff, including N95 respirators or the more protective powered air purifying respirators, or PAPRs, as well as other head-to-toe coverings.
The NNU reported only 35% of nurses at HCA Healthcare hospitals having access to N95 respirators on their units, compared to 52% at other facilities; 16% of nurses having access to PAPRs, while 23% of nurses at other facilities had access; and just 7% reporting having enough PPE to protect staff and patients if there is a surge in patients compared to 19% of all nurses.
However, Fawcett Memorial Hospital claims these numbers, and what was reported by the NNU, are “not true.”
“Fawcett Memorial Hospital is reporting test results on a timely basis to the Florida Department of Health,” Benjamin said. “This is not the time to create conflict and dissension within healthcare organizations that are doing everything possible to protect caregivers and patients. This is the time to depend on each other, trusting that we are doing everything possible for each other to come together and deliver on our mission.”
Nurses at various HCA hospitals are reporting that they have had to work without proper PPE, or told to reuse masks, and are not informed immediately when they are exposed to an infected patient, according to the union’s president, Jean Ross.
“We are facing the gravest public health crisis in a century,” said Gary Mousseau, a registered nurse for the endoscopy unit at Fawcett Memorial Hospital. “As nurses at HCA health care facilities across the country, it has been disheartening to see HCA’s poor response to our safety concerns.”
Mousseau is currently in quarantine after being exposed to a presumptively positive coronavirus coworker on March 16, he said. However, he was notified on March 25 of the exposure and not offered testing by the hospital. He is currently getting tested through his primary care physician, but has been without symptoms and is feeling well.
“Even symptomatic nurses who have been exposed to known COVID-19 patients are having a difficult time getting tested,” he said.
Over the last decade, HCA has made over $23 billion in profits, the union reported.
“They’ve had the wealth and capacity to prepare for this, and they didn’t,” Mousseau said.
“For the wealthiest hospital corporation in the United States to show such disregard for the health and safety of its caregivers, is disgraceful and unconscionable,” said Ross.
Mousseau has not witnessed first-hand a shortage of supplies, as his unit already required changing of masks and equipment between surgeries.
Mousseau has heard second-hand that nurses in other units have been given one set of PPE per shift.
“That is just wrong,” Mousseau said. “They weren’t meant to be reused.”
“The chief complaint is the fact that they do not have the proper PPE,” said June Phillips, a registered nurse at Fawcett’s Spine/Ortho Unit and the chief nurse representative for the union.
A nurse who works at Fawcett, who preferred to not be named, said they receive one pack of supplies at the start of their shifts, and are asked to recycle the masks so they can be sanitized to be reused.
According to Phillips and another nurse at the demonstration, one nurse was asked to go back to work without receiving results for her coronavirus test. The nurse has not been showing symptoms, but was told to take a test after working with a positive case while not wearing the proper PPE.
Phillips has also heard that nurses are doing more work without the help of aides, however their hours have not increased.
“We feel like we’re not being appreciated for what we do,” Phillips said. “We are very stressed about it because we know if we are not safe, it is impossible for our patients to be safe.”
Phillips is returning to work next week and is “extremely scared.”
Originally published in the Charlotte Sun on April 1, 2020.