Trinity Health said this week that even nurses in a COVID-19 unit could not have N95 masks
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Multiple failures by the national hospital chain Trinity Health to protect and support frontline nurses and other healthcare workers at Mercy Medical Center and Providence Behavioral Health Hospital has prompted nurses represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association to sound the alarm about the health system’s inability to effectively respond to the unprecedented coronavirus (COVID-19) public health crisis.
The latest blow to nurses and healthcare workers on the front lines came this week when Trinity Health told staff it would no longer provide N95 masks to those caring for patients in an intermediate care unit that has had positive and suspected COVID-19 patients.
“Nurses are not being supported by Trinity and it is putting us and everyone else at risk,” said Alex Wright, RN and Co-Chair of the MNA Bargaining Committee at Mercy Medical Center. “Healthcare professionals are being thanked on TV every day, but behind the scenes we are being bullied to put our lives on the line without the protection we need. There seems to be no concern on Trinity’s part for worker protection or spreading this pandemic.”
“When we should all be joining together to fight this dangerous outbreak, Trinity needs to make supporting staff the number one priority,” said Jaime Dorunda, RN and Co-Chair of the MNA Bargaining Committee at Mercy Medical Center. “Our communities need more healthcare services, and Trinity is cancelling nurses when the hospital really needs all hands-on deck during this crisis. Trinity should not be looking at the numbers of patients in regard to staffing because the acuity is so much higher.”
Trinity Health COVID-19 Issues
- Lack of protective equipment. Nurses and healthcare professionals at Mercy Medical Center and Providence Behavioral Health Hospital are not being provided sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) to guard against COVID-19 infection and safely care for patients. Nurses are being told one N95 mask is okay for multiple use all day long. This was not accepted practice a month ago. This has been proven to spread infection from patient to worker, which would then spread to other patients, expanding the infection.
Nurses were initially told by management not to wear masks if they were not taking care of isolation patients. Trinity enforced this by needing to call the nursing manager to obtain masks as opposed to the storeroom clerk. Hospitals are the epicenter for COVID- 19. Nurses have resorted to making/disinfecting our own masks to bring to work with us.
The MNA’s recommendation is that all healthcare workers who come into contact with patients now have PPE available because COVID-19 can be present in patients without symptoms. We know there is an inadequate PPE supply throughout Massachusetts and globally, but it is critical that Trinity Health work with our nurses, state and federal officials, and anyone else who is able to obtain the PPE needed to combat this public health crisis.
- Inconsistent guidance on outside PPE. Nurses and healthcare professionals are being told by Trinity management in some cases that they cannot wear PPE that they bring in on their own. We need a clear message from Trinity that with PPE in such short supply, they will work with nurses and other healthcare workers to ensure that any appropriate PPE, whether hospital provided or not, can be used to protect against exposure.
- Cancellations during a crisis. Nurses and healthcare professionals are being canceled during this unprecedented crisis at Mercy and Providence. We appreciate Trinity and other employers abiding by the governor’s order to halt elective procedures to help stop the spread of this virus, but the healthcare workers who would have been caring for patients during those procedures should be available, as appropriate, to help these hospitals get through this outbreak. Trinity is also violating MNA contracts by cancelling nurses. The MNA has encouraged all nurses to cross-train to other units if they are willing and able.
Trinity is threatening to refuse unemployment for any nurse that could be repurposed into a job they don’t work in. An example would be an outpatient endoscopy nurse now being told they have to be an ICU nurse. Trinity is disregarding the months of training that transition normally takes. They are also disregarding the desire of the individual.
- Lack of support for front line staff. MNA nurses are being told by Trinity management that they have to use their own time off, unless they are kept out by Trinity’s occupational health department. This fails to reach the standards set by other Massachusetts hospitals during this crisis and shows a lack of support for the very frontline healthcare workers who are battling this outbreak. Any nurse who is furloughed because of this crisis must be provided regular pay by the hospital and not have to use their own time. Trinity has threatened to fire staff who do not comply with its terms during this crisis, deny unemployment and refuse to allow nurses to use paid time off.
- Closures of Essential Services. Trinity is moving ahead with its plans to close 74 child and adult mental health beds at Providence and a detox unit in Springfield. We have recently seen Trinity actually trying to expedite these closures.
No healthcare services should close during this public health crisis. These beds are a critical resource amid an ongoing behavioral health crisis. In addition, there are patients languishing in emergency departments and hallways waiting for mental health beds. That is terrible at any time, and especially now when the current outbreak means we need EDs and other hospital units available for the surge in COVID-19 patients. Mental health is public health and Trinity should immediately halt these closures.
More information about the proposed mental health closures and a recently launched “Mental Health is Public Health” campaign can be found at: https://www.massnurses.org/news-and-events/p/openItem/11618.
The MNA has called for a halt to all hospital and hospital unit closures amid the COVID-19 outbreak, among other measures. Read letters to the governor and other MNA information at: www.massnurses.org/COVID-19.
Hospital Corporation Background
Trinity Health operates 92 hospitals and 106 continuing care facilities in 22 states. Trinity has a workforce of 131,000, annual operating revenues of $19.3 billion, and assets of $27 billion, according to Trinity. The organization had more than $650 million in offshore accounts as of fiscal year 2017.
In a letter from Trinity to DPH dated February 28, 2020, the Michigan-based hospital chain said it has “proposed discontinuation of the licensed 50-bed inpatient Psychiatric Service and 24-bed inpatient Pediatric Service at its Providence Hospital Campus.” Trinity said it plans to submit the 90-day closure notice required under law to DPH on or about March 31, 2020. After that, DPH can schedule a public hearing to decide if the services are essential. The MNA has proposed legislation to strengthen the state’s hospital closure law.
Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 23,000 members advance the nursing profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting the economic and general welfare of nurses in the workplace, projecting a positive and realistic view of nursing, and by lobbying the Legislature and regulatory agencies on health care issues affecting nurses and the public.