1 in 5 nurses in N.J.'s biggest healthcare union got the coronavirus during pandemic, online poll says - Health Professionals & Allied Employees

1 in 5 nurses in N.J.’s biggest healthcare union got the coronavirus during pandemic, online poll says

Taken from NJ.com

By and 

June 15, 2020

An informal survey of nurses from the state’s largest healthcare union found more than half had been exposed to the coronavirus and one in five developed the potentially lethal disease, COVID-19.

Of those who got sick, one in four returned to work before they felt they had recovered. And the majority said they were told to reuse single-use personal protective equipment like N95 respirators, according to the survey.

The unscientific online poll of 1,085 members of HPAE, Health Professionals and Allied Employees offers a glimpse into their difficult work on the front lines in hospitals, rehabs and long-term care facilities in New Jersey, the state with the second-highest number of infections.

The union sent the survey to its 14,000 members to quantify the troubling stories union leaders have been hearing for months, HPAE President Debbie White said.

“They put their employees at risk. This clearly shows they did,” White said. “These stories taken together that would terrify the rest of society.”

From April 30 to June 2, 1,085 nurses responded to the survey. It found:

  • 53% said they were exposed to the coronavirus at work;
  • Of those who were exposed, 69% did not quarantine;
  • 20% said they had contracted the virus;
  • Of those who got sick, one in four said they came back to work before they recovered;
  • 74% reported they were told to reuse their N95 respirator masks for days and 29% said they had to reuse it for a week or more;
  • 29% said they wore an N95 that did not fit them;
  • 63% said they brought their own protective equipment to work, with the most sought-after items were N95 masks, goggles and face shields.

One nurse who works for Virtua Health system and declined to be identified out of fear of reprisals said many of her colleagues felt “disposable” at the height of the outbreak.

“This whole experience has totally eroded any trust or faith had in the employer,” she said. “We want to take care of people, and knowing you don’t have the right equipment to do your job –the stress is unbelievable,” she said.

White said each hospital created its own set of rules that for many felt random and punitive.

“They were locking up supplies, acting like they were running out. They would send our members into COVID rooms without protection. they would tell certain groups – you can be protected and you cannot,” she said.

The union is pushing S2384/A4129, a bill introduced in the state Legislature last month that would require hospitals, surgery centers and nursing homes to report how many employees tested positive for COVID-19, were admitted to a hospital and died from the disease. The state Health Department would be required to post the information on its website.

The New Jersey Hospital Association, the trade group representing the state’s 71 acute-care hospitals as well as long-term care facilities, said the unprecedented public health crisis exposed some weaknesses in the response that will be corrected going forward.

“We know, for example, that the longstanding norms for the level of PPE stockpiles at the federal, state and facility level are not adequate for a pandemic,” Hospital Association President and CEO Cathy Bennett said in an email. “That is an operational issue that must be addressed at all levels, including the Strategic National Stockpile at the federal level.”

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