Taken from NJ101.5
By Dan Alexander
May 14, 2020
NEPTUNE CITY — Federal workplace safety regulators are investigating complaints that Jersey Shore Medical Center gave trash bags for staff to wear and weren’t providing properly fitting respirator masks to prevent infection.
A letter from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to the hospital’s parent company, Hackensack Meridian Health, outlines the nursing union’s concerns: the hospital suspended staff fittings of N95 masks; lack of training on how to properly conduct a seal test of the masks; and the use of KN95 masks, which are not approved by the FDA and CDC.
The complaint also includes concern over a shortage of gowns and a lack of training on how to disinfect personal protective equipment.
“It is an enormous issue if you consider how deadly this virus can be. The average healthcare worker is tremendously concerned about getting exposed, about contracting the disease, and the onus is on the employer to provide that protection,” said Debbie White, president of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees, a union that represents 13,000 hospital workers in the state, including about 1,300 at Jersey Shore University Medical Center.
White said hospital workers caring for COVID-19 patients are supposed to be fit-tested for the N95 masks to make sure they are sealed properly.
“The fit testing is to find the proper mask for each employee. If you don’t wear the proper fit, you’re not protected,” she said. “The virus can get in and around the mask. That is why a surgical mask is not protection against the COVID virus.”
White said that some people cannot be properly fitted and protected. In those cases, accommodations must be made for those workers, including not being assigned to care for COVID-19 patients.
White said OSHA rolled back their requirement for annual fit testing but still requires an initial fit test for anyone newly assigned to work with COVID-19 patients.
“What we found that Hackensack Meridian had done was they had eliminated all fit testing and they were just passing out random masks to people saying, ‘Here, you look like you would fit in this size. Wear it,'” White said.
Staff with improperly fitted masks are at risk because air can seep around the seal.
“The air can get anywhere and those particles can be anywhere in the air and coming around your mask if it’s too big,” White said.
She said that daily seal tests to double-check the fit are the responsibility of the employee but they were not being trained properly.
“It is not intuitive. It is something that has to be trained,” White said.
“A properly sealed N95 respirator (mask) is so important because our heroic workers are treating patients during a global pandemic that has killed over 80,000 Americans and sickened a million Americans in a very short period of time,” she said.
Kenneth N. Sable, regional president for Hackensack Meridian Health’s Southern Market, said the hospital is aware of the investigation.
“The safety and well-being of our team members and patients has always been and will continue to be our primary concern,” he said in a written statement. “The current global health care crisis does not negate their importance.”