As the de Blasio administration pushes to obtain millions of face shields and gowns for medical staff treating coronavirus patients, the unions that represent city hospital workers pushed back against NYC Health + Hospitals’s decision to advise staff to reuse the personal protective equipment.
With the number of hospitalizations due to the coronavirus surging, the city is working to have 60,000 hospital beds by May, but will need more staffers who are trained to work in intensive care units as well.
Adding 2,000 Nurses
So far, the public-hospital system, which has seen the largest surge in COVID-19 patients, particularly at Elmhurst Hospital, has boosted its ranks by 1,000 registered nurses, with an additional 1,000 coming within a week, according to NYC H+H CEO Mitchell Katz. Additionally, 165 physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants have been hired, with another 350 expected to join this week.
“We will need a great deal more staff than this to be able to successfully increase by the number of intensive-care beds that New York City's going to need,” he said.
The city needs 3.3 million N95 respirators, 2.1 million surgical masks and 100,000 isolation gowns by April 5 to meet the demand.
“These are big numbers, for sure, but they are reachable numbers, and we have to make sure it happens in time,” Mayor de Blasio said.
But some front-line health care workers and the unions that represent them spoke out against policy changes that urge staff to reuse personal protective equipment.
'Slow the Burn Rate'
“It is imperative for every member of New York City’s comprehensive health care delivery system to conserve all available personal protective equipment (PPE) right now,” Demetre Daskalakis, the Health Department’s Deputy Commissioner of Disease Control, wrote in an April 1 advisory that was sent to medical-service providers. “The growing surge of COVID-19 patients means that healthcare facilities MUST ask all healthcare workers who require PPE to IMMEDIATELY implement these measures to slow the burn rate of these important supplies.”
Nurses at Jacobi Hospital protested March 27 against a guideline issued by NYC H+H that advised staff to reuse N95 respirators for five days. The old standard was 24 hours.
“We’re being asked to do something we would have been reprimanded for a month ago,” Kelley Cabrera, the New York State Nurses Association representative for the hospital, told the New York Post.
District Council 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido, who represents 150,000 municipal employees, including thousands working in the hospital system, slammed the city’s decision to loosen safety standards.
'Feel They're Being Exposed'
“This is unheard of, we’ve never had anything like this. Because we don’t have equipment, they would rather change the rules,” he said March 31 on WBAI 99.5 FM. “My people feel like they are being exposed.”
Carmen Charles, president of DC 37’s Local 420, which represents Nurses Aides and Respiratory Therapy Technicians, told The Chief that she didn’t understand why there was a shortage of gloves and gowns, which are inexpensive compared to N95 masks.
“At Coney Island Hospital, my members are being asked to reuse gowns. That’s totally unacceptable,” she said. “My concern is that they are mandating my members to put their health at risk.”
NYC H+H stated that it has taken “serious measures to conserve what we do have.”
Mr. Katz noted a cultural change that has occurred within city hospitals because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“People are used to a previous day where you could just open a supply closet at Health + Hospitals and there would be as much equipment as you could possibly need,” he said. “I think the other complicating issue that we need to be transparent about in the way you have is that as we've learned more about the virus, our advice has changed.”
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