SoCal nurses suspended for refusing to care for COVID-19 patients without N95 masks

Coronavirus

In this file photo dated February 26, 2020, protective N-95 face masks lie on a table at an office in Washington, DC. (Photo by EVA HAMBACH/AFP via Getty Images)

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Ten nurses have been suspended from their jobs at a hospital in Santa Monica, California, after refusing to care for COVID-19 patients without being provided protective N95 face masks.

At Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, nurse Mike Gulick and his colleagues worried that caring for infected patients without first being able to don the respirator masks was risky. The N95 mask filters out 95% of all airborne particles, including ones too tiny to be blocked by regular masks. But administrators at his hospital said they weren’t necessary and didn’t provide them, he said.

Then, last week, a nurse on Gulick’s ward tested positive for the coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19. The next day doctors doing rounds on their ward asked the nurses why they weren’t wearing N95 masks, Gulick said, and told them they should have better protection.

For Gulick, that was it. He and a handful of nurses told their managers they wouldn’t enter COVID-19 patient rooms without N95 masks. The hospital suspended them, according to the National Nurses Union, which represents them. Ten nurses are now being paid but not allowed to return to work pending an investigation from human resources, the union said.

Saint John’s said in a statement that as of Tuesday it’s providing N95 masks to all nurses caring for COVID-19 patients and those awaiting test results. The statement said the hospital had increased its supply and was disinfecting masks daily.

“It’s no secret there is a national shortage,” said the statement. The hospital would not comment on the suspended nurses.

Other nurses have protested what they say is inadequate personal protective equipment at a hospital in Fresno, California. At that hospital, 10 nurses have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.

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