Kaweah Delta staff forced to wear same face mask for weeks, says nursing assistant

VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- A nursing assistant at Kaweah Delta Hospital in Visalia claims they aren't being given the proper protective gear.

They say care providers no longer have access to face masks and have been forced to use the same one for weeks.

The CNA has asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing their job, and in our story, their voice has been altered to protect their identity.

"We have been provided one mask that is to be worn every shift for a duration of two weeks, preferably up to a month," the CNA told Action News.

The CNA claims if they want a new mask, they have to continuously nag management or attempt to look for one elsewhere.

According to them, prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, medical staff could freely access protective gear.

Now, they say, "We walk into each patient's room and we are practically contaminating every single patient's room when we go in and out."

A chart on the CDC's website explains that surgical masks should only be used once and should be switched out after every patient.

Surgical masks are simple face coverings, they're not the more protective N95 masks that are in very short supply.

The CNA says it's much of the same when it comes to protective gowns, they're only given one to wear.

The CNA is now concerned about contracting the coronavirus and unknowingly bringing it home.

"We all have family, we all have little ones at home and we don't know what we're potentially being exposed to."

Kaweah Delta issued a statement Monday on the CNA's concerns: "The safety of our patients, our staff, and our community is our top priority. Early on we began following the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) protocols to make sure that those who need personal protective equipment have it. We were also innovative in devoting entire units to patients with respiratory symptoms, which we now do for patients with COVID-19. This allowed us to reduce our use of PPE by 50 percent. A little more than two weeks ago we went to a universal masking policy that requires all of our 5,000 employees to wear a mask while at work. Recently, we have been able to build up our supply of PPE, so last week we retooled our protocol to get more N95 masks to those who are directly caring for patients in units of our hospital where COVID-19 patients are located."

The hospital added that starting on Friday, it began distributing three N95 masks to those who are directly caring for patients in units of the hospital where COVID-19 patients are. Staff uses one mask per day, then places the used mask in a paper bag for three days to allow any virus to die off. That process is repeated for two weeks, when they receive three new new N95 masks.

Ancillary staff who occasionally enter units where COVID-19 patients are treated, are being given two new N95 masks and two paper bags.

All employees who do not enter units where COVID-19 patients are treated are being given one new surgical mask and a paper bag every two weeks. Kaweah Delta encourages those employees to use fabric masks the community has made over the surgical masks.

As of Friday, Kaweah Delta said that 21 of its 5,000 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and added that they are doing health screenings on employees daily, which includes taking temperatures and checking for symptoms.

For more news coverage on the coronavirus and COVID-19 go to ABC30.com/coronavirus
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