Nurses at a Santa Monica hospital demanded Saturday that they receive higher-quality masks while they treat coronavirus patients, with some being placed on leave for refusing to work without the equipment.
The nurses who protested outside Providence St. John’s Health Center said its administration has not provided information about its supply of protective equipment. In particular, they say the hospital hasn’t given N95 respirators to nurses working with coronavirus patients. Those masks are more effective at protecting from COVID-19 than the loose-fitting surgical masks nurses are currently wearing.
Protesters also called on hospital administrators to allow their colleagues to resume working, arguing the decision to place at least four nurses on administrative leave was retaliatory. The workers placed on leave had refused to enter the rooms of coronavirus patients unless they were given N95 masks.
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"The hospital gives me a direct order to go into a room without proper equipment, I’m going to say no," said Jack Cline, one of the registered nurses placed on administrative leave. "I mean — if someone told you to jump off a cliff, would you do it? No. This is the same situation."
Nurses at the hospital also held a protest earlier in the week.
Providence St. John’s Health Center said it is following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which note that N95 masks are "preferred," while surgical masks are “acceptable."
The hospital also said that those working in surgery and ICU settings are receiving N95 masks, adding that there is a national shortage of the equipment and that its use is recommended only during medical procedures that cause droplets to enter the air, such as when inducing coughing.
"It is distressing that some members of the nurses' union at Providence Saint John’s Health Center have decided to use a global health crisis to stage a campaign of half-truths to disparage our hospital," the health center said in a statement. "Saint John’s cherishes its nurses and is taking precautions sanctioned by leading world, national, state and local health agencies to ensure their safety."