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Suspended Saint John's Nurses to Return to Work

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By Jorge Casuso

April 22, 2020 -- Ten nurses at Providence Saint John’s Health Center who were suspended for refusing to treat patients with COVID-19 without N95 respirator masks will return to work, hospital officials said Tuesday.

The refusal by the nurses, who were placed on paid administrative leave last week, focused a spotlight on the Santa Monica hospital, generating national, and international, headlines as hospitals worldwide faced a shortage of supplies.

The nurses refused to treat patients after doctors "agreed the surgical masks provided by the hospital did not provide adequate protection" and "a coworker contracted the virus," according to the California Nurses Association.

Hospital officials said Tuesday that the ten nurses -- who are among the nearly 700 nurses who work at the hospital -- were issued personal protective equipment (PPE) consistent with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the state and county health departments.

"During conversations with the nurses, we explained three times that refusing to care for their very sick patients could result in disciplinary action," the hospital said in a statement Tuesday.
"We take this issue very seriously. This type of action, by any caregiver, requires investigation."

In a joint press release issued Tuesday, the California Nurses Association and National Nurses United said Saint John's filed written warnings in the nurses' employment records, and they asked that the disciplinary letters be rescinded.

The union also wants the hospital to inform nurses of their inventory of PPE, include nurses on the hospital’s COVID-19 pandemic task force and provide hotel vouchers for nurses "who don’t want to infect their family members."

In addition, they want the hospital to grant RNs workers' compensation claims for COVID-19.

"While the nurses welcome the opportunity to get back to work during this pandemic, they will continue to fight for proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and stand up against the disciplinary actions," the union said.

Hospital officials said Saint John’s -- like most hospitals across the country -- "has been issuing PPE in accordance with CDC and other expert guidelines since the pandemic began."

Following an investigation on April 14, the California Department of Public Health "found no concerns about our PPE protocol or the care and protection we are providing our caregivers," hospital officials said.

Fewer than 0.17 percent of the 35,000 caregivers in Providence's Southern California network have contracted COVID-19 in the workplace since the pandemic began, hospital officials said.

That compares "to national statistics that place the infection rate at 11 percent," they said.

Patricia Aidem, a spokesperson for the hospital, said Providence recently received a shipment of N95 masks.

"We started ordering supplies in December, when (Providence) saw what was going on an ocean away," Aidem said. "The shipments came but not in the numbers" the network expected.

On April 11, Saint John’s opened an FDA-approved reprocessing center that ensures "every caregiver receives one N95 mask to care for COVID-19 positive patients and those awaiting test results," hospital officials said.

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