Monroe nurses join national demand for more protective gear

The health care workers say they are reusing the same gown and mask throughout 12-hour shifts.

MONROE — Nurses at EvergreenHealth Monroe and across the country protested Thursday, calling on the federal government to provide more protective masks, gowns and other equipment needed on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

At 1 p.m., workers on breaks or switching shifts stood six feet apart outside the hospital, demanding President Donald Trump to use the full authority of the Defense Production Act to bolster the country’s supply of personal protective equipment. While reports are showing Snohomish County may have seen the worst of the virus in the last two weeks and that hospitals may not see a previously anticipated surge, health care workers say they are still treating COVID-19 patients and don’t have enough gear to protect themselves.

“We want to make sure that we’re not spreading any sort of sickness or disease from the patient to us and from us to other patients or people in our community,” said Josh Tompkins, a certified nursing assistant at EvergreenHealth Monroe. “When we reuse (equipment), there’s that potential of the bacteria getting on to that, and then to our skin and onto someone else.”

Ideally, staff would use new equipment each time they saw a patient, he said. Health care workers in Monroe are reusing one gown and mask throughout 12-hour shifts, and N95 masks are only used for certain treatments.

Hospitals are doing the best they can with limited resources, Tompkins said. It’s the federal government that needs to act.

That help may not come.

As reports and health officials continue to say social distancing has helped slow the spread of the virus, supplies are being shifted from Washington state to the East Coast.

“It is frustrating to see that supplies aren’t being equally distributed, especially when we see people exhibiting symptoms,” Tompkins said.

Representatives for EvergreenHealth Monroe did not respond to immediate requests for comment.

The SEIU, which represents thousands of nurses in Washington, has been calling for more personal protective equipment for weeks. In a briefing last week with reporters and local health care workers, Sen. Patty Murray called on Trump to boost federal aid.

“So far, this president hasn’t pushed all the buttons that he can,” she said. “We should’ve stepped up several months ago, we need to be stepping up now. … I have been disappointed, discouraged, angry and all of the above since day one when we first heard of the potential and now the pandemic. We are behind because there was no urgency coming from the top.”

Nurses at Swedish First Hill in Seattle and St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Tacoma also took part in the protest. Union organizers called the event Thursday the largest one-day protest of health care workers during the COVID-19 crisis.

Joey Thompson: 425-339-3449; jthompson@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @byjoeythompson.

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