N.J. medical workers raise ‘shocking concerns’ about shortage of masks, protective gear for coronavirus

Taken from NJ.com

By and 

March 12, 2020

Some have been told to reuse surgical masks. Use body wash when the hand soap runs out. And when they request help on how to properly don protective gear, one manager said they should remember their training from the Ebola outbreak in 2014.

Nurses and and certified nursing assistants in hospitals and nursing homes across the state are relaying “shocking concerns” about supply shortages as the coronavirus steadily spreads. On Wednesday night, representatives from six labor unions called on the Murphy administration to “ensure all healthcare facilities have the supplies, training materials, and staffing support they need to reduce everyone’s risk of exposure.”

“Our unions are standing together to demand — not beg — but demand proper training and protections be readily available to every healthcare worker in every facility. Those concerns must be addressed before this virus spreads even further across the state,” said Debbie White, president of Health Professionals and Allied Employees said in a press release.

A spokeswoman for Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, a registered nurse, said the commissioner was scheduled to hold a teleconference with union leaders on Thursday.

“The Commissioner agrees with the unions that the safety and protection of our health care workers is our highest priority. We need them to help us control and stop the coronavirus,” Health Department spokeswoman Donna Leusner said Wednesday night.

Health care workers’ worries have mounted in the past several weeks and are reaching a boiling point as COVID-19 cases are multiplying at a steady rate. New Jersey officials on Wednesday said the statewide total cases of the virus reached 23, with one death.

“I shouldn’t lay in my bed and wonder if I’m gonna have the proper supplies to protect myself and my residents,” said one nursing home employee in Hudson County who spoke to NJ Advance Media on condition of anonymity because she feared retaliation.

In a letter sent to Persichilli Monday and publicly shared on Wednesday, the labor leaders asked to participate in the “preparedness planning activities that you are leading” since Gov. Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency.

“We remain hopeful that the coronavirus will be contained. However, while it continues to spread, we believe it is important that the Department include the voices of frontline caregivers in the State’s preparation and response efforts,” the letter said.

About 500 HPAE employees have responded to a survey about the coronavirus response, more than half said they did not have access to an “N95 mask,” said HPAE spokeswoman Bridget Devane said. More than 50 percent also said they had not received training on how to use protective gear, she said. The N95 masks are designed to block the wearer from inhaling 95% of airborne particles, including pathogens.

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