Nurses at hospitals throughout Orange County banded together Aug. 5 in a “National Day of Action to Save Lives,” calling for better protection for health care workers and safer nurse-patient ratios amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The protests, conducted by the California Nurses Association and the National Nurses United union, took place beginning at 6 a.m. and lasted throughout the morning at Anaheim Global Medical Center on South Anaheim Boulevard; Chapman Global Medical Center on East Chapman Avenue in Orange; South Coast Global Medical Center on South Bristol Street in Santa Ana; West Anaheim Medical Center on West Orange Avenue; and Kindred Hospital Westminster on Hospital Circle.
Ron Herron, a registered nurse at Kindred Hospital Westminster, told The Epoch Times that nurses are still not receiving adequate levels of personal protective equipment (PPE), and that “the hospital provides us with one N95 mask.”
“It’s impossible to social distance in a hospital, and I have had to purchase some of my own PPE. I bought a respirator mask with filters which I can actually wear for a full 12 hours. The other masks mark your face up after wearing them for that long,” Herron said.
Kindred Hospital Westminster nurse Jewel Russell also told The Epoch Times that health care workers at the hospital have to buy their own equipment. “They buy us cheap equipment, and we work overtime with no breaks” to keep up with the high number of patients, Russell said.
The rallies come just weeks after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the purchase of 420 million protective masks meant to provide PPE to front-line workers. The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment from The Epoch Times prior to publication.
“Securing a reliable supply chain of PPE allows us to distribute millions of protective masks to our essential workforce while preserving millions more in our state’s stockpile for future use,” Newsom said in a July 22 press release.
Nurses across the country are calling for Congress to pass the HEROES Act, a pending bill they are backing that the unions say would protect health care and other essential workers by ensuring domestic production of PPE through the Defense Production Act and by mandating that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration establish an emergency temporary standard on infectious diseases.
The unions also say the measure would provide economic help in the form of cash payments, extended unemployment benefits, and day care subsidies through the end of 2020 to families on the brink.
Union officials insist that nurses see daily the prioritization of profits over patients through local hospitals’ management practices. They contend testing all patients for COVID-19 would result in positive COVID-19 patients being placed into units designed to care for these patients, but since such testing is not happening, nurses are not being given the proper PPE while unknowingly caring for positive patients, causing significant exposure to nurses and patients.
Orange County hospitals are still experiencing high levels of COVID-19 cases in medical staff. In one small community hospital, 16 of the 22 registered nurses who tested positive for COVID-19 reportedly were from low-risk units including surgery and telemetry, according to a union statement.
“For the nurses who work three to five 12-hour shifts weekly, the need for full protection with proper PPE would certainly mitigate the constant exposure they face. Showing up to work to care for patients should not be a COVID-19 exposure roll of the dice for nurses, while employers and the government fail to take all measures to ensure the demand for PPE is met,” nurse Carolyn Stoddard of West Anaheim Medical Center said.
In 2004, California became the first state to enact nurse-to-patient staffing ratios and is currently the only state in the nation to enforce such protocols. Newsom issued an executive order March 4 waiving the state’s mandated staffing ratios due to the spreading disease; the waiver expired on June 30.
John Fredricks of The Epoch Times and City News Service contributed to this report.