Nurses around the country are getting fed up with the lack of protective gear they’re able to access while treating coronavirus patients, and in many cases, they’re being punished at their jobs as a result.
According to NBC, one nurse in Kentucky was reprimanded for insubordination and reassigned after refusing to treat a covid-19 patient without an N95 mask:
“In a phone interview with her attorney on the line, the nurse in Kentucky, who requested anonymity out of fear of retribution, said she has asthma and needs the protection of an N95 mask, which provides a higher level of protection than a surgical mask and has been in short supply. At the start of a shift in late March, she said, she was reprimanded for not wanting to go into a COVID-19 patient’s room at Norton Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Louisville without an N95 mask.
“My reprimand was insubordination for not following policy,” she said. “They sent me home on the spot.”
Norton Healthcare, where the nurse works, said it is operating under the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Kate Eller, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said that the nurse was reassigned to a non-clinical position, though she’s welcome to return to her previous role “as long as she agrees to wear the right mask for the right task per CDC guidelines, which is not always an N95 mask.”
But the CDC’s guidance is a large part of the problem, nurses and experts say, and its guidance isn’t necessarily based on protecting healthcare workers.
“We know that the CDC policy is built on shortage. It’s not built on proven evidence,” said Arthur Caplan, head of the division of medical ethics at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine. “Reusing things, it’s a policy that is trying to adapt to the reality of shortage. And so, to say you have to follow CDC guidelines isn’t enough in a pandemic.”
There are plenty of other examples of employers penalizing healthcare workers for refusing to compromise their safety due to inadequate supplies. A nurse at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles said that she broached the question of wearing an N95 mask while treating covid-19 patients with her bosses:
She said she was instructed not to, “as it could cause paranoia,” and was told to keep the supply shortage in mind. She said that in a follow-up conversation with her managers in which she questioned whether doctors were being given priority over nurses in the distribution of protective respirators, she received a similar response as the nurse in Kentucky, who was referred to CDC guidance. When she expressed discontent with having to wear a surgical mask to treat COVID-19 patients, a protocol that has been authorized by the CDC but that has come under scrutiny, she said, she was sent home.
If grocery store and drug store employees didn’t know they’d signed up for a draft when taking their jobs, healthcare workers didn’t know they were going on a death march. As Caplan said:
“If I say, ‘I’m not going to work here unless you give me an N95 mask and an adequate gown and gloves, you can’t make me go in there,’ I think you’re right,” he said. “You cannot be forced to take very dangerous risks.”