Despite limited COVID-19 testing of frontline staff and asymptomatic spread of virus, nurses still not receiving necessary PPE
Like New York, the MNA is calling for at least a daily N95 mask directive for healthcare facilities in Massachusetts
PITTSFIELD, Mass. – The need for increased protection for staff on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic at Berkshire Medical Center has prompted nurses represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association to distribute 530 FDA-approved KN95 respirator masks to their colleagues and renew their call for proper personal protective equipment for all direct care staff at BMC.
The MNA is also requesting Gov. Baker issue a directive such as the one issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York that would require all healthcare to provide all direct caregivers a new N95 mask at least once a day. The Massachusetts directive would expand on the New York order by requiring daily N95 masks at ALL healthcare facilities because MA is experiencing high rates of infection in non-acute facilities as well.
MNA Mask Distribution
What: BMC nurses on the MNA Bargaining Committee will distribute FDA-approved KN95 respirator masks to colleagues. In addition to the 530 KN95 masks, nurses will be distributing shower caps and face shields. Media is welcome to attend and take photos or video at a responsible social distance.
When: Saturday, April 25, 2020 from 12 to 2 p.m.
Where: The MNA Office at 6 Burbank St. in Pittsfield across from the hospital.
BMC nurses are also grateful for the many local PPE donations they have received. RN Amber VanBramer has collected PPE from local donors and is organizing efforts to get that equipment to colleagues. VanBramer’s collection site: 136 Holmes Rd. in Pittsfield.
“Nurses and our colleagues on the front lines at Berkshire Medical Center have struggled to get the protective equipment we need,” said Alex Neary, an ICU nurse and co-chair of the BMC MNA Bargaining Committee. “Nurses have had to use the same mask several times. We should have adequate PPE protection as if all patients are positive.”
“It is critical nurses are properly protected so we can care for patients and keep our families safe,” Neary said. “Together with incredibly generous people in our communities we are making every effort to ensure direct care staff at BMC have the PPE we need to safely fight this pandemic.”
BMC policy remains that only staff who are in contact with COVID-19 positive patients or patients being ruled out for COVID-19 are provided the N95 masks that offer the highest level of protection from infection when used in combination with eye protection, a gown and gloves. MNA nurses are seeking this high standard of protection for any staff caring for any patient. It is widely known, due to numerous studies, that people can be infected and spread the virus without showing symptoms.
BMC nurses have emphasized that adopting universal N95 masking would help to stop the spread of COVID19, decreasing the chances for a prolonged surge and/or second wave of infections. Because of the limited testing available to BMC staff, there is still a high likelihood of asymptomatic staff and patients spreading the virus while wearing inadequate PPE. The hospital has provided wide ranges of how many N95 masks it has in storage, and said it was unable to tell nurses how many masks are distributed throughout BMC. Nurses have been requesting regular and complete updates about the inventory of N95s and other PPE so that they can help to advocate for supplies.
MNA PPE Donations
In the wake of dangerous delays in the provision of desperately needed PPE for nurses and healthcare professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the lack of an adequate state and federal effort to provide needed protections, the MNA in conjunction with donors, contractors, and outside organizations, has successfully acquired and is now distributing a significant quantity of PPE and other supplies to its members statewide.
Skyhawk Therapeutics and Dragonfly Therapeutics, based in Waltham, Mass., donated $150,000 for the purchase of one of the most urgently needed PPE: FDA-approved KN95 respirator masks.
“These medical-grade masks are essential to the safety and well-being of our nurses and healthcare professionals,” said Donna Kelly-Williams, RN and MNA president. “Without this PPE, our frontline caregivers are just as susceptible to COVID-19 as every visitor and patient they interact with and care for. If most of our frontline caregivers were to become sick, the entire healthcare system would be compromised. But thanks to this donation, our members can care for patients during this pandemic safely and without fear.”
“Simply thanking Skyhawk Therapeutics and Dragonfly Therapeutics for these donations really isn’t enough,” added Kelly-Williams. “Their generosity is beyond words, and it is beyond measure.”
The MNA also used a sizeable portion of its own budget to purchase PPE for nurses and HCPs. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and both social distancing and the commonwealth’s state of emergency got underway, it meant that the MNA had to cancel its spring education curriculum for members. Those funds were entirely redirected to the purchase of PPE, including the KN95s and, next, face shields.
Distribution of the PPE is now underway, with deliveries — of proportional size, and based on need — being made to facilities across the state by MNA staff members and union leaders. These deliveries will continue to roll out during this month’s anticipated surge and will continue for as long as the items are available and needed. [For information on the MNA’s PPE deliveries within your readership/viewership, email firstname.lastname@example.org and/or email@example.com.]
Other groups that also contributed in-kind donations of, or monetary donations for, PPE include IBEW Local 103, which donated 20,000 medical-grade N95s; countless small businesses; and more than 80 individuals who added to the MNA’s online fundraising efforts at massnurses.org/PPEdonations.
- 2,600 face shields, manufactured and donated by Autodesk
- 500 sets of scrubs, with more on the way, from Barco Uniforms as part of its “Project Gratitude” initiative
- 20,000 pairs of sneakers from Puma
- 400 headbands, also from Puma
- KIND bars from the KIND company
- Bottled of water from Anheuser-Busch
More information about appropriate PPE standards, including MNA letters to the governor, position statements and PPE videos can be found at www.massnurses.org/COVID-19.
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.