Nurses raise alarm about lack of masks, emergency plans as coronavirus spreads

“The tension in the hospitals and the fear is heavy and thick."

WCCO Radio Newsroom
March 18, 2020 - 6:12 pm
Kelley Anaas Minnesota Nurses Association

Image courtsey of the Minnesota Nurses Association

Minnesota nurses are incresingly afraid that regional hospitals are not adequately prepared to protect them or other healthcare workers as the COVID-19 pandemic gets worse, and now they’re speaking out.

“I can say there's fear across the board, like we are all feeling this tension in our chests," said Kelley Anaas, who works at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, at a press conference Tuesday. 

The event was organized by the Minnesota Nurses Association, which presented the results of a survey they conducted with their members. It was conducted with 1000 participants, and found that 55 percent said their hospitals were not adequately prepared for COVID-19.

The nurses at the event told similar stories explaining what they saw as an critically inadequate amount of protective equipment and training, particularly in regards to face masks, as well as a general lack of emergency preparedness and transparency at hospitals as the coronavirus outbreak grows worse by the day. 

Mary Turner, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, said she works on the designated COVID-19 floor of a local Intensive Care Unit, where she has witnessed scenarios in which nurses were rushing to help patients, only to discover there were not enough masks. She also said that often the nurses were not provided enough training to properly fit the masks they had.

“It's this mad scramble to get in there and to help. And (the mask) is not available. People are not comfortable with putting it on because we have not had the training,” she said. 

The mask Turner was referring to was the N95, a tight fitting face mask designed to filter air paticules. Turner explained that because of the recent shortage of N95 masks, the  CDC had lowered the suggested requirement for healthcare workers treating coronavirus from the N95 mask to surgical masks, which are designed to protect against splashes as opposed to airborne particles.

Melanie Timpano, an intensive care nurse at St. Joseph's Hospital in St. Paul (pictured above), saw the CDC's decision to move away from the N95 mask  as part of a larger problem.

“They should be saying, no, this is the level of protective equipment that is needed and how can we get there? What do we need to do to protect our frontline workers so that they can care for the public? This is absolutely egregious,” she said. 

The nurses also alleged that many hospitals have not been willing to share their plans to in the event that the amount of people needing hospitalization increased rapidly as the virus spreads. Specifically, Turner pointed to a lack of available plans to screen and isolate large numbers of patients, or to “surge” and increase their workforce.

“Whether it is because they don't have plans, don't want to admit their levels of unpreparedness, we don't know. What we do know is that many of the responses we have received are frightening,” Turner said. 

Anaas, the nurse at  Abbott Northwestern, went further in describing how COVID-19 has impacted the atmosphere at local hospitals:

“The tension in the hospitals and the fear is heavy and thick. We're at the bedside with these patients. We cannot let their loved ones come see them. And you do the best you can to be in emotional support. But that's really hard to do when there are barriers between you, whether they're physical distance or masks over our faces, and they're scared,” she said.

‘‘I mean, we've all seen what's happening on the news and worldwide and they're wondering. I mean, their last stop is the ICU before maybe getting better or maybe not.”

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