In its April 27 letter to Gov. Charlie Baker about COVID-19, the Massachusetts Nurses Association calls for a consistent approach utilizing the expertise of frontline nurses and healthcare workers
CANTON, Mass. – Nurses and healthcare professionals represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association have launched a statewide effort urging state lawmakers to swiftly pass legislation that will presume work exposure for all healthcare workers who test positive for COVID-19 or who were exposed and quarantined.
The push for presumption of occupational exposure legislation is part of the eighth letter the MNA sent to Gov. Charlie Baker on April 27 about the COVID-19 pandemic. Registered nurse and MNA President Donna Kelly-Williams also sent a letter about the legislation to all state lawmakers this week, and nurses across Massachusetts are beginning to call and email their legislators urging passage of the bill.
“Nurses and other healthcare workers are putting their lives on the line every shift caring for patients with the coronavirus,” Kelly-Williams said. “They have been on the front lines of this pandemic in trash bags, wearing makeshift face shields, placing their N95 masks in crumpled paper bags and riding in crowded shuttles. There are countless reasons why we must consider any healthcare worker who has been exposed to have acquired the virus at work.
“COVID-19 can spread without symptoms. Patients are treated for other conditions, cared for by nurses for days or weeks without N95 masks, and end up testing positive. For weeks positive patients co-mingled with other patients and facilities failed to properly triage patients. Tests have not been provided in a timely manner and results have been delayed.
“Yet multiple healthcare administrators want to contend that these workers acquired the virus ‘in the community.’ This is both insulting and reprehensible. With a stay-at-home-order in place that restricted public interaction outside the hospital, this claim is even more disingenuous.”
- There is legislation currently before the Joint Committee on Public Safety (S. 2602/ H. 4611, An Act Relative to Emergency Hazard Health Duty), that attempts to address occupational presumption, but it does not include all healthcare professionals, such as respiratory therapists, nor other workers at healthcare facilities who have been repeatedly exposed to the virus.
- Senate Bill 2602 and House Bill 4611 presume a nurse who has symptoms of, or who otherwise becomes infected with COVID-19, contracted their medical condition or incapacity in the course of their professional work; and prohibits requiring these nursing professionals from having to use sick time, vacation time, personal time or any other accrued time in cases related to COVID-19.
- The MNA is advocating that this language be expanded to include workers in all healthcare facilities throughout the pandemic.
In its eighth letter to Gov. Charlie Baker, Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders and the Massachusetts Legislature, the MNA, representing more than 23,000 frontline nurses and healthcare professionals in 85 healthcare facilities and the vast majority of RNs in hospitals statewide, calls on state officials and healthcare employers to immediately apply the experience and expertise of nurses and healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The MNA previously sent letters on March 14, March 19, March 24, March 31, April 7, April 14 and April 21. All letters including the April 27 letter can be found at www.massnurses.org/COVID-19.
Highlights from April 27 letter:
- Even as the MNA has consistently called for adherence to best practice standards of one-time use N95 masks for healthcare workers caring for any patients, healthcare facilities have forced nurses to re-use masks for multiple shifts, even multiple weeks, and have refused to provide N95 masks even to nurses who are caring for symptomatic patients awaiting test results.
- The MNA has also expressed concern about the unproven “decontamination” procedures for masks. The use of any of these experimental methods must involve the consent of the healthcare worker.
- Testing of caregivers must be ramped up. If testing is not available at a facility, there should be remote healthcare worker-only testing sites available that quickly and without hurdles test and report back results.
- Quality control issues with regards to testing are becoming more apparent.
- Return to work criteria for healthcare workers remains inconsistent.
- Facility and service closures, and staff layoffs and cancellations must be halted while we are in the midst of a pandemic and hospitals are receiving more than $800 million in additional state and federal funding. Asked about the furloughs of nurses at St. Vincent Hospital during a press conference April 16, Gov. Baker said the state has provided almost $1 billion to the health care industry to ensure financial stability.
Read the full April 27, 2020 MNA letter to Gov. Baker and more information 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.