For over a month, the NBC 6 Investigators have been surveying health care professionals about what they're seeing in South Florida hospitals. NBC 6 Investigator Tony Pipitone looks into what has changed when it comes to protecting themselves.
From the start, the nearly 300 doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who participated in the NBC 6 exclusive survey were concerned about catching the virus or bringing it home to their families. But over time, it seems things are looking up on the front lines.
When first asked if their workplaces had adequate protective equipment in March and April, 60 percent of respondents said they did. Now, 75 percent say so.
The share of respondents having “a lot” or “a great deal” of concern about getting infected has also fallen, from 68 percent to 45 percent.
Dr. Jorge Infante has spent the crisis in emergency rooms.
“Fortunately, now we’re seeing improvement in numbers,” Infante said. “There’s been progress, but there’s been progress because it’s been such a serious thing and we've taken it to heart.”
The NBC 6 Investigators’ survey reflects that.
During the months of March and April, only 33 percent said their workplace had enough resources to handle a surge in patients versus 63 percent who do now.
Patricia Diaz is a registered nurse at HCA’s University Hospital and Medical Center.
“It’s a little chilling because we’re still not getting what we’re asking for,” Diaz said when asked about access to adequate protective equipment.
Diaz, a member of the local 1199 Service Employees International Union (SEIU), is concerned about recent guidelines implemented by HCA's hospitals in our area limiting the use of N95 masks, even when treating COVID-19 positive patients.
Medical workers across HCA’s hospitals in South Florida have protested the policy.
“They’ve heard our cry, you know, that we don’t feel safe. And I want to say they’re not pushing harder, but they're not, they're not responding,” Diaz said. “We’re still not getting the proper PPE.”
HCA said it had to change its policy to prepare for any surge, “amidst a global shortage” of protective equipment.
Our survey reveals it’s not the only hospital system to do so.
Nearly 90 percent of participants responded that their workplaces have implemented measures to conserve PPE, including restricting access to N95 masks or sterilizing masks for reuse. About 42 percent of them said those measures imperiled their safety and their colleagues.
But at this point into the pandemic, some of the frontline workers think the virus is not as bad as feared.
“Basically, we were prepared for catastrophe,” Dr. Mark Matouka, an E.R. physician at Memorial Hospital West, said adding that never happened.
“For the most part, I’m not seeing anyone critically ill from the virus,” Matouka said.
Infate says his level of concern hasn’t changed.
“The pandemic is as serious as we thought it will be,” Infante said. “I’m still worried about it as I was back then.”
The NBC 6 Investigators will continue the conversation with medical professionals and get their perspective about reopening the state of Florida Thursday at 6 p.m.