Several nurses at Desert Regional Medical Center make a number of claims against the hospital, which they allege is not doing enough to protect them from coronavirus. But the hospital maintains that is not true.
The three nurses did not want to show their faces. "Management tends to retaliate against the people that do speak out," one of them said.
But the nurses said they want their message heard.
"We have a lot of nurses that have been hospitalized, and are in hospitals because of COVID," they said.
Their main concerns are issues with personal protective equipment (PPE).
The nurses said the PPE is often reused for multiple shifts, adding, "We even kept these things in paper bags sometimes days on end." They also said the PPE does not always fit properly.
"They won't supply us with N-95 (masks) that work that fit us, so now I'm left buying my own PPE," one of them said. I-Team investigator Peter Daut responded, "And have you voiced these concerns to your management?" The nurse said, "Yes we have. We have multiple times, and we're just getting no answer."
Daut spoke with Desert Regional's Chief Operating Officer, Mike Ditoro.
Daut asked Ditoro if there has ever been an outbreak of coronavirus among nurses and staff. Ditoro responded, "We have not had an outbreak. Like any other healthcare or community member, we are susceptible like the rest to have this virus."
Ditoro said employees are tested. He also said the positivity rate below 10 percent is a testament to the safety efforts the hospital has in place. Regarding if an employee becomes sick, he said, "It's a policy here that if someone is positive or symptomatic, they are immediately sent home, and they are not allowed to return to work unless there's been 10 days since their most recent positive test, or 10 days since their first symptoms. And they must have at least 24 hours fever free at the end of those 10 days, as well as the symptoms, must be markedly improved."
But the nurses disagree, and said employees are "coming back positive, and exposing everybody that's at work, including patients." Daut replied, "So you're saying the hospital is forcing nurses who test positive for coronavirus to come to work?" They responded, "Come to work, as long as you don't have a fever, you can come to work."
Daut then asked if patients should be concerned. A nurse responded, "Absolutely."
In response, Ditoro said, "That's not true. We are following the recommendations on the quarantine, and patients are not at risk because of this." He also added, "The safety of our staff, of our physicians, of our patients is first and foremost in what we do. It's first and foremost in our decision-making, with our PPE strategies. We have assembled a team and asked a group of our physician leaders to help follow the guidelines and the recommendations from the governing bodies that give us recommendations on PPE use." He also said, "There have been to date 25 anonymous complaints made from nurses to either the California Department of Public Health or Cal OSHA regarding PPE supplies and how we're using it.
These bodies are mandated to come investigate every allegation or any complaint that is made. And to date, all 25 have produced no deficiencies, and we have found out from these visits in many ways we're exceeding the recommendations made by the governing bodies and we feel this validates the hard work that our team and our physician collaborators have put together to keep our folks safe."
Daut asked Ditoro, "Is re-used PPE being stored at the hospital in paper bags, sometimes for days on end? And is it safe to do that?" Ditoro replied, "That's not happening. Any employee that comes in or physician is given a new mask with every shift that they're here. And that's consistent with the strategies these governing bodies are asking to extend use of PPE, but they get one with every shift. There are paper bags, and the paper bags are used if somebody is going to take their lunch break. You obviously cannot eat with the mask on. So the opening of the paper bag offers a cleaner environment than just taking your mask and setting it down on the table. So we do a new mask for every shift, and if at any point a mask becomes soiled, or the integrity is thought to be compromised, we give a new mask. And it's our expectation folks let us know so they can get a new mask." He reiterated, "The policy that we have is very strict that you get a new mask every time you come in."
Daut also asked Ditoro, "Are nurses buying their own PPE? And is the hospital allowing them to wear their own PPE, or will they get in trouble?" He replied, "We have adequate supplies of masks and PPE. And we want the folks to use the supplies that we have because we know where we've gotten the masks from, we know that they fit appropriately, we know that they're recommended by the governing bodies. So we want folks to use the PPE that we have, and we have enough. We do have the PPE that fits properly." He continued, "We would discourage anybody from bringing something in that we can't vouch for and validate the safety of it."
The nurses union recently rallied outside the hospital, demanding more PPE and safer working conditions. About 200 similar rallies were held by the union at hospitals nationwide.
"We're supposed to protect our patients, our communities. That's what we're here for. And we're letting them down," one of the nurses said. Daut asked them, "What specifically are you asking for?" One of them responded, "We would like scrubs for every hospital employee. So we can wear them, and not have to wear germs home."
In response, Ditoro said that it's "not at this point mandated by anyone that everybody gets scrubs. However, any nurse or caregiver on a COVID unit, we keep our COVID positive patients in separate units from the rest of the patients, any caregivers on those units do have hospital-issued scrubs."
Daut asked Ditoro, "What is the message you want nurses and staff, and also the public to hear about what's happening right now at Desert Regional?" He replied, "Safety is the top priority for us for any member of this organization. Whether it's our staff, our physicians, and our patients that come into this building. We're very proud and we're thankful for the work of our front line caregivers. What they've done to pull together through this is nothing short of miraculous."
Earlier this month, the nation's largest union of registered nurses, National Nurses United, delivered a petition to Congress with more than half a million signatures, demanding legislation for more PPE. The union is also asking the CDC to strengthen its guidelines on PPE, so that hospitals will do more. Desert Regional had said it values all its nurses represented by the union but is disappointed by the union's rally.
Meanwhile, the number of coronavirus patients at the hospital continues to drop significantly