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Nursing union says staff safety ‘at risk’ at Las Vegas hospital, others

Updated April 1, 2020 - 8:41 pm

MountainView Hospital nurse and union representative Nicole Koester is worried for her coworkers’ safety.

As the number of people infected with the new coronavirus in Clark County has grown rapidly, her hospital and others have been relaxing standards for personal protective equipment.

At MountainView, 3100 N. Tenaya Way, nurses are now required to wear the same single-use surgical mask throughout their shift, Koester said. Even if they are treating someone who has COVID-19, they are only given a close-fitting N95 mask if the patient is receiving a treatment, such as intubation, that is likely to spread viral particles in the air.

The changes have led Koester to issue a grim prognosis.

“I think it’s only a matter of time before people within the hospital start to contract the virus,” she said. “If the nurses are sick, there will be no one to care for the patients.”

So on Wednesday night, Koester waited outside the hospital’s employee entrance. As nurses entered and exited the building she asked them to complete a short questionnaire.

The goal was to gather information from workers in different departments in the hospital. Were they being provided adequate protective equipment, were patients suspected of COVID-19 infection being properly isolated, and were nurses being notified if one of their patients tested positive?

“The goal is to figure out what the problem is,” she said. “We suspect we already know what the problem is, but we want to know the severity of it.”

Her actions were just one way nurses at 15 hospitals in seven states voiced their concerns Wednesday about what they say is a lack of preparedness for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Koester’s union, National Nurses United, organized the concerted efforts to protest conditions that “places nurses, other staff, and patients at risk in the face of the coronavirus pandemic,” according to a press release.

The union reports it represents about 900 nurses at MountainView, and about 10,000 nurses nationwide working at hospitals operated by HCA Healthcare.

MountainView CEO Jeremy Bradshaw wrote in an emailed statement that the hospital has taken significant action to treat patients with COVID-19 and prevent the disease’s spread.

Those steps include enacting universal masking for all employees, appointing a steward to oversee priority deployment of protective equipment where it is needed most, creating strategic equipment distribution centers and establishing “pandemic pay continuation programs.”

“This is not a time to create conflict and dissension within healthcare organizations that are doing everything possible to protect caregivers and patients,” Bradshaw said. “This is the time to depend on each other, trusting that we are doing everything possible for each other to come together as HCA Healthcare Family and deliver on our mission.”

But Koester said she sees it differently. She hoped to get 50 to 100 nurses to complete her questionnaire Wednesday.

Gathering answers will allow Koester and her union to better understand the working conditions nurses in departments across the hospital are facing, she said. When staff are so focused on fighting the coronavirus pandemic, it can be difficult to gather their concerns.

To Koester, the first problem to solve is obvious.

“We need to have more masks, bottom line,” she said. “This is not a problem that can be fixed when this pandemic is over.”

Contact Michael Scott Davidson at sdavidson@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Follow @DavidsonLVRJ on Twitter. Contact Glenn Puit at gpuit@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0390. Follow @GlennatRJ on Twitter.

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