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More than a dozen registered nurses at Blake Medical Center in Bradenton, Florida, protested outside the hospital Friday, the third such protest since the pandemic began, saying hospital owner HCA Healthcare won’t give them N95 masks unless they are working with known COVID-19 patients, and doesn’t tell them when their patients later test positive.

As case counts in Manatee County climb, many patients have been admitted to the 383-bed hospital for other reasons, but later turn out to have COVID-19, said Candice Cordero, a telemetry nurse who works with stroke and cardiac patients in a step-down unit.

“We’re seeing more random patients test positive, and some have symptoms, but some don’t, or some are admitted for one thing, and start having (COVID) symptoms a few days later,” she told MedPage Today.

“We’re having a problem with the hospital being transparent with their numbers, and letting staff know when they’ve been exposed.”

The hour-long protest was called by members of the Blake Medical Center’s bargaining unit of the National Nurses Organizing Committee-Florida, an affiliate of National Nurses United. NNOC said in a news release that it has filed complaints about unsafe conditions at the hospital with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The statement said that at least four RNs at Blake have tested positive since late May.

The union further alleged that Blake Medical Center management requires RNs who have been exposed to COVID to continue working until they have COVID symptoms, does not test all patients prior to a procedure or operation, fails to provide PPE replacements for broken masks, and threatens RNs with discipline for raising safety concerns.

Officials for Blake Medical Center eleased this statement in response to the protest:

“In the midst of a global shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), Blake Medical Center has been doing everything in our power to protect our caregivers and patient care teams throughout the pandemic and equip them to provide safe, effective care to our patients by following or exceeding Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) protocols.

“We have provided appropriate PPE, including a universal masking policy requiring all caregivers in all areas to wear masks, including N95s, in line with CDC guidance. While we currently have adequate supplies of PPE, we continue to provide safeguards that are consistent with CDC guidelines and help ensure the protection of our colleagues, not only today, but into the future as the pandemic evolves. The NNU fails to recognize the reality all hospitals nationwide are facing, that this pandemic has strained the worldwide supply of PPE, including masks, face shields, and gowns.”

Cordero said that recently one patient “was not properly screened in the ER who should have been on a COVID unit. That potentially exposed several nurses and the other patient in that room.”

When she complained to human resources officials, she said, she “was reprimanded verbally for speaking up and was told that if I did it again, I would receive discipline.”

The hospital should be testing all of its frontline workers regularly, she said. “We’re much more at risk of being exposed while at work than many other jobs out there. We really should be screened better than we are.”

Kim Brooks, who works in an ICU step-down unit for trauma and cardiac patients, assumes all of her patients are infected with COVID-19 and because of that, she said, she has bought her own N95 masks since the hospital won’t buy them for her.

“We know some of the nurses who are on non-COVID units are getting exposed to positive patients and now [some] are getting sick because they didn’t have N95 masks,” she told MedPage Today.

At the very least, the hospital should inform frontline workers when patients ultimately test positive on our floor, “so we can take precautions with our family,” Brooks said.

“Once we find out someone is positive, we do move them to a COVID unit. But sometimes there’s been a situation where that patient has been rooming with a COVID patient, and that patient is sometimes left on our unit to see if they turn out to be positive.”

By Cheryl Clark, MedPage Today

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