CAPITAL REGION, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Doctors and nurses were on the front lines battling Ebola, swine flu, and H1N1, but they say nothing compares to how hard coronavirus is hitting the world or how poorly we were prepared for it.
“We are hardened, seasoned people that are willing to get into the trenches and be the first line people, but we are starting to feel unappreciated and uncared-for and just not important,” says Elizabeth Cahill, an adult stat nurse at Albany Medical Center.
Nurses of the Capital Region joined a New York State Nurses Association conference Wednesday. They called out government agencies and hospital administrators for unsafe and unethical working conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s not right that we don’t have enough N95 masks, and in light of this we’re just supposed to use plain surgical masks. It’s inappropriate that we are supposed to use the N95 masks for more than one patient or for prolonged use,” says Cahill.
“What we can do today, we would have been disciplined at work for last week,” says Denise Davella, a registered nurse from Ellis Hospital.
Reducing the use of respirator masks has also lead hospitals to encourage nurses to share such safety equipment.
“We have PAPRs, which are like personal air purifying hats. Everyone’s supposed to have their own and a mask that’s supposed to go with it, but we are using these between staff. After you take yours off, you have to clean it, and you can only hope that the person that used it before you or is using it after you isn’t infected and you’re hoping that the way you’re cleaning it will be enough,” Cahill explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.
The CDC guidelines on protecting healthcare workers from catching and spreading coronavirus changed March 10. Guidelines Albany Med and Ellis Hospital tell NEWS10 they’re following.
“Since we’ve learned more, the World Health Organization has put out guidelines, CDC has supported these guidelines. We are protecting our staff with surgical mask, eye protection, glove and gown,” says Albany Med Director of Epidemiology Rebecca O’Donnell during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
“The use of the PAPRs are per the manufacturer’s instructions. It’s safe, it’s based in science, and it’s an appropriate use,” says Dr. Ferdinand Venditti, Albany Med’s General Director.
“We have been looking for alternate suppliers, successfully, we’ve been stocking up where we can, we’ve been conserving were appropriate, and we’ve been using reusable respirators that you’ve seen on TV, per the manufacturers instructions and circumstances where that’s appropriate,” Dr. Venditti goes on to say.
A statement from Ellis Hospital reads:
Ellis Medicine is well-prepared and fully focused on doing all we can to protect our patients and our healthcare team from COVID-19. Keeping our physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals safe and healthy and able to care for others in our community is essential to the effective containment of this virus, and there is absolutely no reason why we would be doing anything but that.
Ellis Medicine is taking all precautions and following all protocols for personal protective equipment, staffing, and patient care recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and our state and local public health agencies.
The arrival of COVID-19 in our region has made an already difficult job even more challenging for healthcare professionals, and Ellis Medicine’s nurses and other front-line staff are doing an exemplary job in implementing and following precautionary measures, as well as educating their colleagues, patients, family members and friends about proper community containment practices. We are proud of the Ellis Medicine nursing team for their skill, compassion and dedication, and we are committed to giving them the resources they need to care for our community.
But local nurses say they’re worried these new measures aren’t based on science. They see the supplies running out, no new shipments coming in, and say they’re worried hospitals are cutting corners.
“Our concern, our main concern, is that they’re changing it for the good of us and not just because we are running out of stuff,” says Ellis Hospital registered nurse Fred Durocher.
“It’s not doable, not safely. They’re jeopardizing patients lives, you’re jeopardizing your license, which is our livelihood, and now that’s catching up,” says Davella.
The nurses also add this is only the beginning. If already limited staff get sick, patients may go untreated.
“I would describe where we are right now as the moment right before a tsunami hits and it sucks all the water away from the beach,” says Cahill. “We haven’t even begun to see the number of patients we will in the next few months.”
Capital Region hospitals routinely praise staff response to the pandemic at Wednesday’s press conference and at a joint announcement Friday. However, the New York State Nurses Association members tell NEWS10 local staffing is far from ideal care.
“One of the biggest forces driving nurses out of this profession is the ratios that they face on the floors and in different departments,” explains Davella. “In my background in critical care, nurses are frequently taking care of three patients at the same time. It really shouldn’t be any more than two patients.”
“If the patient is extremely critical, meeting they’re on a lot of medications to stabilize their heart rate, on a ventilator to sustain their breathing — basically we’re controlling all of their basic life functions — that nurse should only have one patient. That person needs that level of personal care,” she goes on to say.
“Every flu season is difficult because of the surge and the staffing levels at hospitals. If we can’t handle flu season, how are we supposed to handle a pandemic?” asks Durocher.
Both say Albany Med and Ellis Hospital have asked their nurses to work overtime and the organizations have reached out to nurses who quit or retired to gauge whether or not they would be willing to come back.
“There’s not enough nurses. Nurses have left the hospitals because of the staffing and the stress and the safety in the past already. I don’t know how they think or how many people they think they’re going to get to come back in the middle of all this,” says Durocher.
The New York State Nurses Association encourages any nurse who feels they are being asked to preform unsafe or substandard care to fill out a protest of assignment form.
“In essence, you’re like protecting your license, because we are letting people know who are making these decisions for us that what they’re asking us to do is unsafe,” explains Davella.