WASHINGTON—AFT, the nation’s second largest nurses union, is calling on healthcare employers and the federal government to provide coronavirus tests for all frontline healthcare workers, along with universal access to testing for all Americans. The union is also demanding emergency protection and supplies so workers can save lives, and to slow the growth of the dangerous pandemic.
Hundreds of thousands of nurses and other health professionals treating the virus are yet to be tested, despite reports of infections. Those who care for patients suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 are under grave threat without adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as N95 (or stronger) respirators, impermeable gowns, gloves and goggles to protect eyes from splashes. Hospitals will urgently need more intensive-care beds and ventilators in addition to other vital supports.
Because of the shortage of vital protective equipment, workers in Oregon—and around the country—are being asked to reuse N95 respirators and, worse, to downgrade their level of protection from a respirator to a surgical mask—and some are operating without proper gowns. Workers in Washington state, desperate for protection, are instead making their own masks from fabric, plastic and coffee filters. Adding insult to injury, many nurses lack care beds for their patients and child care for their own children.
AFT President Randi Weingarten said the needs of our country’s healthcare workers are paramount:
“Our nation’s healthcare heroes urgently need two things: tests to assess if they are carrying the coronavirus and protective equipment. They need them now to be free from anxiety. They are distraught about treating infected patients and then bringing the virus home to their children or elderly parents; and they worry about patients who could come to the hospital without the coronavirus and leave with it. In caring for others, we must care for those on the frontlines.
“Nurses from across the country have reached out to us to tell their horror stories of making homemade masks to treat patients who tested positive for the coronavirus because their hospitals have either run out of N95 respirators or they didn’t make the ration cut. Asking nurses to use bandanas or scarves rather than deploying every asset of the federal government to help them is just immoral.
“COVID-19 has shined a light on the crumbling healthcare infrastructure in the United States, after years of cuts exacerbated by a president who can’t lead in times of crisis. Trump calls himself a wartime president, but our hospitals are ill-equipped to fight this pandemic—and our frontline nurses and healthcare professionals are the ones on the firing line.”
Adrienne Enghouse, RN, president of Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, said:
“Bandanas aren’t going to work. Our hospitals have less than two weeks of PPE supplies left, and the biggest surge of patients hasn’t even hit yet. It’s like asking firefighters to walk into a burning building without the proper protection.
“OFNHP is echoing the call of our national affiliate, the AFT, to immediately call on the federal government not only to provide the proper personal protective equipment for nurses but also to provide coronavirus tests for all U.S. healthcare workers. The only way we’re going to stop this pandemic is if we know who’s a carrier so they can get the proper treatment. And the only way we’re going to protect our healthcare workers is to make sure we have what we need to do our jobs.”
AFT President Randi Weingarten; OFNHP President Adrienne Enghouse; Anne Goldman, vice president for non-DOE members, United Federation of Teachers; John Brady, RN, vice president of AFT Connecticut; Katie Oppenheim, president of the University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council; and Redetha Abrahams-Nichols, RN, United University Professions manager and nurse in Brooklyn, NY are available for interview—email AFTpress@aft.org.