BY NATHAN HOUSE
Three nurses working in the Twin Cities chatted with Southside Pride about their experiences working in hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Presently, obtaining adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) remains a challenge for some, while for others, facing pay cuts continues to be a major stressor.
For many health care workers around the country, the chances of being fired by their employer for talking to the media are high, and the identities of two nurses are concealed in this article.
A Saint Paul nurse expressed their frustrations with their employer, Allina Health, after they announced a plan to reduce pay raises and benefits for staff. Allina is among many health care centers in Minnesota that are struggling to sustain their revenue during the pandemic, and have placed thousands of their workers on furlough.
“We are working endlessly to fight this COVID and they are taking away our raise. You can’t do that,” the Allina Health nurse said, speaking over the phone. They went on to question why Allina executives aren’t the ones taking a pay cut, instead of the nurses working the front lines of the pandemic.
On top of being short staffed, Allina’s Intensive Care Units reserved for treating COVID-19 patients have reached capacity, and nurses are unable to obtain adequate PPE. This has been a similar experience for Sarah E, another nurse working in the Twin Cities. Sarah’s hospital has run out of essential PPE for treating COVID-19 patients and has been forced to use less-safe methods.
When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that nurses can use surgical masks instead when treating COVID-19 patients, Sarah said it “felt like a betrayal because of what we were told. It felt like we were being abandoned.”
N95 masks are made to filter at least 95 percent of airborne particles. For nurses and doctors treating COVID-19 patients, wearing the masks significantly reduces the risk of contracting the disease. Normally, health care workers use the masks once when they treat a patient. Surgical masks on the other hand are not made with the same materials as N95s and don’t protect health care workers from droplets containing the coronavirus.
Sarah recently made news after a social media post of theirs went viral, in which they expressed their concerns about the limited availability of PPE and ICUs in their hospital. Sarah’s intention was to raise public awareness about the risks nurses are going through, such as having to constantly reuse N95 masks.
Sarah isn’t sure if the post put her job at risk, but their post garnered an outpouring of support from their co-workers and their union.
“We need people to make good choices,” said Sarah. “Support the staff and patients by wearing masks and [practicing] social distancing.”
Utilizing sufficient PPE does not present the same challenges for Lisa Pedersen, a nurse working regular 12-hour shifts at Davita Kidney Care in Minneapolis. “The company is very good at providing PPE. I never worry about my safety. I just worry about my patients.”
When it became clear that COVID-19 was widespread in Minnesota, Pedersen’s biggest concern was losing many of her patients because they are considered high-risk.
“I cry a lot,” said Pedersen. “I think that the only way some people will take this seriously [is] if they lose someone they love.”