Frustrated Valley nurses rally over lack of masks, gowns

MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) -- Dozens of nurses rallied in Merced outside Mercy Medical Center, waving signs expressing their fears and frustration over what they call a lack of personal protective equipment - items like masks and gowns.

"Basically, we are issued one N95 mask if we want it at the beginning of our shift, and that N95 mask has to last us our entire shift," said Noelle English, one nurse.

The nurses say that means they wear the same mask around patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 and those who are being monitored for respiratory issues but may not have the virus. They're concerned about cross-contamination and the respirators becoming less effective.

"A lot of nurses and health care workers have had to resort to other means of supplying their own equipment just to be able to perform their daily tasks," said ER nurse Hector Torres.

The hospital provided a statement saying, "There is no higher priority than the safety of our people and our patients. Mercy Medical Center Merced has been working non-stop to ensure that all team members who need personal protective equipment (PPE) have the right equipment, at the right time and are using it correctly."

It goes on to say they are following CDC guidelines and are working to obtain additional safety supplies. But the nurses worry it may be too late.

"We should have been more proactive rather than reactive," said Hector.

A similar protest took place at Kaiser Permanente Fresno Medical Center on Tuesday. National Nurses United says a lack of safety measures there has left several nurses infected with COVID-19, including one who is fighting for her life in critical care.

"If all of the nurses are sick, who's going to be in the hospital that's going to be left to take care of patients?" said Amy Arlund, a Kaiser critical care nurse.

Kaiser also sent Action News a statement confirming ten nurses have tested positive for the virus, 7 of whom were determined to be work-related.

The statement also says safety is the highest priority, adding, "We are using CDC-prescribed precautions and providing our staff with protective equipment that is aligned with the latest science and guidance from public health authorities."

Officials have not said how many of the people who have tested positive for COVID-19 have been treated at Mercy Medical Center, but we do know two patients who died from the disease spent their final days here.

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