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Washington nurses want answers about protective equipment shortfalls

Washington State Nurses Association Executive Director Sally Watkins issued a statement Thursday asking for transparent and updated information on the pandemic.

SPOKANE, Wash. — The Washington State Nurses Association is calling on local, state and federal governments to provide “transparent, updated information on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.".

WSNA represents 19,000 registered nurses across the state.

Representatives for WSNA say some nurses have been asked to reuse surgical masks and face shields, and are even sharing them with others. Others have reported using one mask per 12-hour shift and sharing goggles with other caregivers. 

"They're going to be faced with a difficult decision of choosing between their jobs or their personal and their family's health and safety," said Anne Piazza with WSNA. 

Washington State Nurses Association Executive Director Sally Watkins issued the following statement on Thursday:

 “Nurses continue to report to WSNA their concerns about the lack of needed equipment. We continue to hear that supplies are being delivered, yet our members still do not have what they need. Nurses and other health care providers need the right tools to defeat this pandemic—that includes accurate, transparent information about the resources available at both the individual facility and state level. We continue to collaborate with Gov. Inslee, Secretary Weisman and Vice Admiral Bono, asking them to provide more transparency and the updated information we need to protect ourselves and serve our communities.

“It is time for our health care systems and government to be fully and completely transparent with health care providers. We especially need to know how much personal protective equipment (PPE) is available at the Emergency Operations Center, how much has been distributed, and where it’s gone—down to the facility level.

“We also need accurate and updated information on testing: how long tests are taking to process, how many health care workers and first responders have been tested, and the results of those tests.

“Our union is uniquely positioned to play a key role in communicating with our members and employers. We will continue to work with our elected leaders and public health officials coordinating response efforts so we can bring our resources fully to bear and defeat this pandemic together. We need answers for our members.”

KREM reached out to Providence Health and the Spokane County Emergency Management for comment on nurses' concerns. Providence has since returned KREM's request. 

Providence spokesperson Jennifer Semenza said she is unable to provide information about how many health care workers have tested positive for COVID-19.

Nurses who have reached out to KREM anonymously have also expressed concerns about PPE being kept under or lock and key or rationed at local hospitals. 

Semenza said Providence recently began consolidating back-up supplies of PPE throughout hospitals and ambulatory clinics in secure locations. 

"We did this to get an accurate inventory of the supplies we have and to ensure the PPE is used at clinically-appropriate times," Semeneza added. 

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Spokane County Emergency Management has received initial supplies of PPE from the federal government and its leaders are determining how it will be distributed among the region’s health care providers, Semeneza said.

"We are also part of a larger health system and we have taken every measure to work our supply chain to get the PPE we need. That includes mask and shield manufacturing and being a part of a large mask-making initiative. The supplies gathered on the west side of the state for those initiatives are shared among all Providence facilities," she wrote to KREM. 

Gov. Jay Inslee also addressed the shortage of masks for police officers, fire personnel and healthcare workers during a news briefing on Thursday.where he announced the extension of the state's "stay home" order

“We are intensely committed to getting you protective equipment as fast as humanly possible," Inslee said, adding that the state is ordering millions of masks.

Inslee added that he would be happy to speak with nurses and healthcare workers to provide a status update on protective equipment in the state. 

State health officials confirm during the same briefing that technology to sterilize N95 masks will be coming to Washington state, but they did not have an exact date. 

Nurses have also expressed concerns about inadequate PPE when working with patients who have confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19.

Providence started a universal masking policy this week, where each caregiver who does patient care can receive a surgical mask at the start of their shift if they want one, Semenza said. She added that caregivers who work with patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 or other contagious situations are provided with appropriate PPE.

Semenza said N95 respirator masks are used for patients with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 only during procedures when bodily fluids are most likely to be come airborne. 

"N95 masks are in very short supply so we are conserving these masks for the times they are needed most while still working to refill our supplies," she said. 

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MultiCare spokesperson Kevin Maloney said those treating COVID-19 patients wear gowns, respiratory protection such as N95 masks, gloves and protective eye equipment. 

"These patients are treated in designated areas to help keep our non-COVID-19 patients safe," he wrote to KREM.

A full statement provided by Providence on Thursday in response to concerns outlined by the WSNA is as follows:

The safety of our caregivers and the communities we serve is of the utmost importance. In fact, Providence St. Joseph Health has been a leader in protecting our caregivers – physically, financially and emotionally – during these unprecedented times.

Personal protection for our caregivers

"With the severe shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) around the globe, we have been placing large orders with suppliers and have been working closely with government officials to ensure we have access to the National Emergency Stockpile. We are beginning to receive more shipments, although at unpredictable times and usually with much smaller quantities than expected.

To ensure we have enough PPE, we have taken additional steps that include:

·Postponing elective surgeries so we can redistribute protective gear to other patient-care areas

·Offering more online virtual care, which also allows us to redistribute PPE to areas of greatest need

·Monitoring patients at home using telehealth capabilities

·Restricting visitors to reduce the risk of exposure in our hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities 

· Following CDC guidelines for reuse and extended use of PPE

·Reprocessing masks, following FDA guidelines, to continue to replenish our supply levels

We’ve taken matters into our own hands by making our own PPE. Companies across the country -- including Washington-based Kass Tailored and Nordstrom -- have stepped up to help us rapidly mass produce surgical masks and face shields, and the American Hospital Association is now scaling this effort nationally.

With these measures in place, we have been able to begin the practice of “universal masking” in our hardest-hit communities. This means, in communities designated as CDC hot spots, we will supply a mask to every caregiver who works in a clinical setting at the beginning of each shift.

We have begun this practice in Everett, Seattle, and Spokane, and will roll it out to our other communities as the prevalence of COVID-19 increases. Of course, the PPE supply remains fluid, and we are constantly reviewing our procedures to reflect that unfortunate reality. Regardless, we are committed to universal masking in our most affected communities for as long as is feasible.

We are regularly updating our caregivers about our PPE sourcing efforts and providing other information about supplies. Additionally, we are sharing necessary information with public health officials who need to report on the availability of supplies and strategize about efforts to source additional materials and equipment.

Financial and emotional support for our caregivers and their families

During this uncertain time, we are offering several services and programs to support our caregivers and their families. For example, through the end of April, we are offering pay continuation to caregivers working in programs or services we have had to close or pause. We are also offering paid emergency time off for our caregivers to use, if necessary, through the end of May. In addition, we have several other resources to support caregivers, including mental health and wellbeing programs. We fully acknowledge the high level of concern experienced by our caregivers, and are taking extraordinary steps to help ensure their safety. Having safely cared for the first patient with COVID-19 in the U.S., our caregivers have led the nation through this crisis. We will continue providing excellent care to our patients and supporting our communities as we work together to overcome this crisis."

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