Michigan Medicine nurses: Let us bring in our own N95 masks

Posted at 4:20 PM, Apr 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-13 22:21:09-04

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WXYZ) — Every day, nurses are putting their own lives on the line to take care of patients with COVID-19. Nurses at Michigan Medicine say they are not being given the right kind of face masks, and they’ve been told they’re not allowed to bring in their own personal protective equipment.

Michigan Medicine nurses say even in the Intensive Care Unit that’s filled with coronavirus patients, they are only allowed to use paper surgical masks unless they are doing specific procedures.

“If people get sick, they can’t work, they can’t take care of the patients, which is why we went into this profession in the first place,” said Katie Oppenheim, President of the University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council. The union represents about 6,200 nurses at Michigan Medicine.

Oppenheim says nurses are provided the necessary N95 masks only during certain procedures, such as intubation or suctioning. The rest of the time, she says the only have surgical masks.

“Is a surgical mask enough,” asked 7 Investigator Heather Catallo.

“No, a surgical mask is a paper mask,” Oppenheim said. “For the most part there are no N95s.”

Oppenheim says Michigan Medicine nurses want to bring in their own N95 masks and respirator masks, but hospital administration has told them they can’t use their own PPE.

“It’s very difficult to understand why people who are not on the front lines every day would think that it’s in any way acceptable not to provide the safest environment possible,” Oppenheim said.

The American Medical Association and other leading health organizations, such as The Joint Commission, recommend that doctors and nurses be allowed to purchase their own protective gear if their hospitals can’t provide them.

In a statement, spokeswoman Mary Masson said “Michigan Medicine has the resources we need to provide care for every patient and keep our healthcare personnel and our team members safe. Because we cannot guarantee PPE acquired elsewhere is clean, properly fitted, and meets FDA requirements, Michigan Medicine will not permit our team members to use masks brought from home in our facilities..

“That seems very illogical. The surgical masks are made of paper. We actually know the quality is not consistent from batch to batch, the employer even admitted that,” Oppenheim said.

Oppenheim says using personally purchased N95 masks would not only keep the nurses safer, it would help prevent the spread of the virus between patients.

“As nurses, we go into this field to take care of patients and their families. We’re having to do it in ways that we never knew we would have to, and I would hope that the university of Michigan would listen to the nurses, and provide adequate PPE at all times,” Oppenheim said.

Masson said they would be happy to partner with any staff member who says they have a source of N95 masks. “We only require that those masks be subject to the same review by our Supply Chain team as every other piece of equipment in our facilities to ensure safety,” Masson said.

Oppenheim says the union is now investigating ways to do “fit testing” on N95 masks purchased by health care workers on their own.

“They [administration] believe there’s a risk to people bringing their own because it wouldn’t have been fit. We know that fit testing can occur in a number of ways,” Oppenheim said. “OSHA allows various entities to do fit testing… But in reality, people are not going to wear something that doesn’t fit them. So it would be ludicrous to think that people would purchase something at a fairly high cost that doesn’t fit.”

Michigan Medicine offers a link for people looking to donate supplies.

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