Bronx Health Care Workers: “We Need PPE”

 

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By Luis Fonseca

Around 40 health care workers demonstrated in front of the main entrance of the Montefiore Medical Center Moses campus in the Bronx on Thursday, demanding more personal protective equipment or PPE.

Nurses are the warriors on the frontlines fighting the pandemic and they don’t have the arms or the amour to protect themselves and the public, said Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, an ER nurse and president of the New York State Nurses Association. “We are dying,” she said. “We are getting sick. It doesn’t matter how many ventilators we get if we are dead and can’t run the ventilators.”

The nurses called for President Trump to use the Defense Production Act to have factories shift production to make desperately needed PPE. Sheridan-Gonzalez compared fighting the virus to World War II, when this act was used to transform factories to produce arms. She said they are also demanding that health care workers get access to hoarded PPE.

Already many health care workers have tested positive for COVID-19, said Sheridan-Gonzalez. ER nurse Benny Matthews said inadequate PPE has meant nurses are spreading the virus to their families and communities. It is outrageous, he said, that a few days ago he tested positive for Covid-19 and is already back to work. “They don’t care if you can move your hands, if you can walk, if you can talk, come back work and make people sicker.”

Third year medical resident Laura Ucik said they were not just running out of PPE, but also of pain medicine, sedatives and oxygen masks. Ucik said she was given one disposable yellow gown to use all day taking care of COVID-19 patients. She said she hung it on an IV pole in between patients and put her single N95 respirator mask into a paper bag.

 

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“Every day when I go to work, I feel like a sheep going to slaughter,” said Ucik. “My colleagues and I are writing our last will and testament. I’m 28 years old.” Ucik added that some are saying the coronavirus was a conspiracy. The virus is not the conspiracy, she said. Instead it is government structures, private insurance and drug companies that have conspired to leave the most vulnerable without adequate resources, said Ucik. “We are past the point of last resort.”

The nurses said that the hospitals themselves are becoming a center of where the virus is spreading. Victoria Lanquah, a nurse at the Moses campus, said her unit had been converted and would only treat COVID-19 patients. “If the ICU does get overflow, we will get ICU patients, whether we’re trained or not,” said Lanquah. Montefiore is asking health care workers to bring in their own bleach and wipes, she said. “This is a disgrace.”

Requesting that workers reuse PPE after being in a contaminated environment is never recommended but Montefiore has instructed staff to reuse masks, face shields and gowns, said Lanquah. This is a recipe for patients to die and health care workers to get sick due to exposure, she said.

“The measley PPE that we get was not what they had in China to save lives,” said Sheridan-Gonzalez. Young healthy health care workers died in Wuhan in the first wave because they didn’t have the PPE, she said. But in the second wave, they imported 40,000 health care workers with adequate PPE and there were zero transmissions.

“We are spending most of our time learning how to double shroud corpses,” said Sheridan-Gonzalez. “We want to spend our time learning how to calculate IV drips, regulate a ventilator and bring someone back from near death.”

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