Nurses Protest Over HCA Moving to ‘Crisis Capacity' When Other Hospitals Don't

Moving to the CDC guidelines known as crisis capacity allows the hospital to limit the use of the all-important N95 mask.

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HCA, a large hospital company in South Florida, has gone into “crisis capacity:" a set of CDC guidelines when personal protective supplies are short. Nurses at the hospital organized a protest when they found out other hospital systems in South Florida were not following suit.

SEIU Local 1199 organized the protest outside of University Hospital in Tamarac and the Northwest Medical Center in Margate Thursday afternoon. There were more than a dozen nurses at each protest.

Because the company went into the CDC guidelines for crisis capacity - as opposed to conventional or contingency capacity - hospitals can provide only medical masks when nurses care for patients with the contagious coronavirus. Before, they had higher quality N95 masks that filter out 95% of air particles. The basic medical mask is not considered respiratory protection, according to the CDC.

Photos: Nurses protest over HCA moving to “crisis capacity” when other hospitals don’t

“Staff are demanding that they get the proper protective equipment. This takes them a lot to have them come out here,” said Patricia Diaz, a nurse at University Hospital Tamarac.

The hospitals supply N95 masks when nurses do very messy work in the ICU, like intubating someone or connecting a patient to a ventilator.

“Because my 6-year-old daughter asked me if I was going to come home dead one day. And that really spoke volumes to me because we take care of so many people and our families, and when my daughter asked me that, I said, you know what, I’m going to do the best that I can,” Tamara Gordon, a nurse for HCA, told NBC 6.

There is a well-documented shortage of N95 masks. The tide is turning, however, now that the federal government compelled major companies through the Defense Production Act to import supplies that were held abroad.

“While our hospitals currently have adequate supply of PPE, we are doing everything in our power to ensure we continue to have enough to protect our colleagues as they provide care to patients,” wrote Catherine Holly from HCA to NBC 6. “Following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all staff and providers in all patient care areas are required to wear masks and we are taking steps now to conserve PPE because we do not know what our future needs will be.”

Few hospitals are spared from the problem.

“No matter what anybody tells you, we do not have enough PPE. My shoptalk has been way ahead of the curve. University of Miami has been doing an excellent job making sure its health care workers are protected. But we’re still reusing PPE in ways that it wasn’t intended to be reused,” said Richi Rattan, a surgeon at University of Miami Hospital.

“All Jackson healthcare workers, providers, support teams, and ancillary staff have access to N95 respirators regardless of the patient population they serve, as all patients may be asymptomatically infected with COVID-19,” wrote Tania Leets from Jackson Health, a partner of the University of Miami. “Jackson does not deny anyone an N95 respirator if it is requested; there are situations where the respirators are absolutely required and that use is monitored to ensure compliance.”

Memorial Health System and Broward Health confirm to NBC 6 they are not on crisis capacity. That’s something that angered the nurses protesting.

“It’s a crisis that we all know, but it’s hard for me to comprehend how the other two hospitals can provide for their employees and we cannot, and we’re one of the top ones in the nation,” said Tamara Gordon.

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