Nurses Complain They Lack Protective Equipment During Outbreak

Sharp Mary Birch nurses claim the hospital is rationing face masks and leaving them unprotected from COVID-19

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Nurses protesting outside Sharp Mary Birch Hospital this weekend -- the second protest by San Diego health care workers in days -- held signs that said, “Help us help you."

The nurses are seeking help in the form of personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep themselves safe and keep the novel coronavirus from spreading within the San Diego community.

The nurses claim the hospital is rationing face masks and leaving them unprotected from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

One emergency room nurse said he’s only given one mask per shift.  A labor and delivery nurse said the hospital said she could wear a mask only if she had a doctor’s note and that nurses were forbidden from bringing their own masks for protection.

Sharp doesn’t see it that way.  The hospital system is following CDC guidelines for dealing with the coronavirus crisis by “optimizing” their supply of PPE by using it for “clinical staff providing direct care for patients with or suspected of having COVID-19 and other communicable diseases, among other high-priority clinical uses."

On Friday, health care workers at UC San Diego Health walked out on their lunch break in a similar protest to what they say is a lack of PPE provided by their hospital.

UCSD Health similarly said they are following CDC guidelines in the criteria they use to provide PPE to their staff.

Sharp sent the following statement to NBC 7:

“Maintaining a sufficient supply of PPE during the COVID-19 outbreak is a priority not only here in San Diego, but also across the globe. We are optimizing our current supply of PPE by following state and federal guidance. Keeping our employees, physicians and those we care for safe is a top priority.  Our current inventory needs are adequate but building a stronger inventory is an imperative, and our Supply Chain Department continues to work tirelessly to increase our supply. As these efforts proceed, Sharp is constantly reviewing its PPE policies and educating staff to ensure we meet and exceed all requirements.”

Sharp’s current infection control guidelines, which follow the CDC’s recommendations for suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients, include:

  • Standard masks, gowns, gloves and eye protection are the recommended equipment for droplet isolation and for nasopharyngeal specimen collection
  • Patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 can be cared for in a regular, single-person room; caregivers should wear a standard procedure mask and gown, gloves and eye protection
  • N95 respirators should be prioritized for high-risk, aerosol-generating procedures (AGP)
  • Airborne Infection Isolation rooms (AIIRs) should be prioritized for patients undergoing procedures with a high risk of aerosol generation”

Late Monday, NBC7 was contacted by a Sharp Nurse who wanted to spread what she called “Great News!” The news was a memo to Sharp Mary Birch staffers that reads in part, “During employee screening, one standard mask will be offered to each SMB staff member per shift. For the safety of all employees, we strongly recommend using the Sharp issued mask, as other masks have not received clearance and validation for efficacy.”

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said at the county's daily news briefing on Friday more than 428,000 N95 masks have been secured in coordination with the state and federal governments.

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