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MA Nurses Association wants N95 masks for all staff in contact with patients

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PITTSFIELD, Mass. (NEWS10) — Nurses at Berkshire Medical Center want better personal protective equipment standards on the frontlines, and a triage area separate from the hospital to limit potential exposure to COVID-19.

Berkshire Medical on Thursday required all staff in contact with patients to wear surgical masks, eye protection, and gloves. According to the Massachusetts Nurses Association, only staff in contact with patient testing or positive for coronavirus are equipped with N95 masks, which offer the best protection from infection.

The Nurses Association says the Medical Center doesn’t supply N95s to enough nurses in the emergency department. Almost a hundred nurses, all without adequate personal protective equipment, are furloughed and self-quarantining after potential exposure. Of those, 75 nurses do not work in COVID-19 units or with COVID-19 patients, the Nurses Association says.

We all know that coronavirus is a highly infectious and stealthy virus that can be spread by asymptomatic people, leaving frontline healthcare workers and hospital patients at risk unless we have the highest standard of protective equipment. Every nurse and health care worker on the front lines at Berkshire Medical Center must be able to use personal protective equipment that can effectively guard against the widespread risk of exposure to COVID-19. At this point, to be safe and limit the spread among staff and our community, we must assume any patient could have the virus and act accordingly.

Alex Neary, Registered Intensive Care Unit Nurse and Co-Chair of the BMC MNA Bargaining Committee

Besides the emergency department, several other hospital units lack access to N95s, including the rehab, surgical, and mother/baby units.

Although a potential global N95 shortage looms over the medical community, were the hospital to change its policy and give N95s to all patient-facing staff, it would still have a four-week supply.

A screening and triage area outside the emergency department, the Nurses Association adds, would keep patients with respiratory problems from mingling with other patients.

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