In response to shortages of personal protective equipment coupled with Gov. Tim Walz’s decision to allow elective procedures, the Minnesota Nurses Association late last week announced a plan to march on May 20 in protest.
The struggle to obtain enough PPE has been a consistent issue throughout the pandemic. As the number of patients with Covid-19 increases, MNA members will protest in demand of equipment, training, staffing, and transparency from the hospitals. The union voiced a major concern over the return of elective surgeries, said MNA president Mary Turner.
“Our main goal is to make sure that through this Covid crisis the nurses stay safe, and of course, our No. 1 way to stay safe is to have the right personal protective equipment, and to have enough of it,” she said.
As a nurse at North Memorial Health in an intensive care unit caring for Covid-19 patients, Turner said there is anxiety over the change in standards of safety precautions as it relates to reusing isolation gowns and masks that normally would be thrown away.
“When they start to talk about bringing back surgeries ... we naturally become concerned that our rationing is going to become even harsher,” she said.
Some nurses are asking for hospital-issued scrubs so that they don’t bring the virus home to their families. And some nurses at United Hospital are being disciplined for seeking it, MNA officials said. The union is also calling for transparency in the amount of PPE hospitals have available.
“We should not be reprimanded or disciplined in any way for trying to stay safe,” Turner said.
On March 20, participating nurses will march from United Hospital to the capital and will bring a petition with more than 10,000 signatures demanding protection for workers and patients. The group says its members will follow proper social distancing guidelines. MNA represents 22,000 registered nurses and other healthcare professionals in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and Iowa.
“Minnesota’s hospitals and health systems continue to take actions to keep our health care labor force healthy and available to respond to the increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients who need our care,” the Minnesota Hospital Association said in a statement. “Hospital leaders are in constant communication with their front-line workers about PPE supplies and updated guidelines coming out from national and state health agencies.”
The MHA said the state’s hospitals and health systems are following Minnesota Department of Health and CDC guidelines for conserving and extending PPE, but the guidelines don’t sit well with Turner.
“We are not using our isolation equipment the way we were taught in our nursing books by any stretch of the imagination. The CDC backed off their guidelines so fast it made my head spin. From optimal protection down to the bare minimum. And it was extremely alarming and we have kind of been putting up with this,” she said. “This is intolerable.”
As the state is working to obtain more PPE, hospitals and health systems are monitoring supplies.
“We're getting desperate and desperation calls for desperate actions. And I'm not saying we'd do anything illegal, but we are going to make our voices heard,” Turner said.