Nurses working for Cambridge Health Alliance are petitioning for a safer work environment while treating coronavirus patients after some said they’ve have worn trash bags instead of medical gowns.
“This organization is complicit in the largest scale violation of occupational health and safety standards in history,” said Susan Wright-Thomas, a nurse at Cambridge Hospital and an at-large director of the Massachusetts Nurses Association.
Last week, CHA nurses delivered a petition to senior management calling for more personal protective equipment, hazard pay, expanded employee testing and a meeting with CEO Dr. Assaad Sayah, which they say was declined twice.
As of Tuesday, 151 of 4,600 CHA employees had tested positive for COVID-19, according to a spokesman, who also said Sayah participated in a virtual town hall with nurses on Wednesday morning. He said there are currently 47 coronavirus patients in inpatient units.
The hospital system said it is monitoring supply levels and and addressing needs “aggressively” and has offered “generous” benefits for workers including childcare resources and free temporary housing.
Jillian Breslford, a Cambridge Hospital nurse working on a coronavirus floor, said at a Wednesday press conference, “We figured out how to make backup gowns out of trash bags. We continue to work in visibly soiled masks which are recycled for multiple uses.”
She said employees have been participating in temperature screenings upon arriving to work, but the thermometers are faulty and routinely record temperatures of 93 or 94 degrees.
Another nurse, Autumn St. Hilaire, said there is a lack of patient monitoring systems that alert nurses to changes in oxygen levels and many rooms have doors without windows, making it harder to check on patients.
“There are no words to describe the guilt I felt when I opened one of these doors to find a patient suffering in respiratory distress who was too sick and lethargic to call for help,” St. Hilaire said.
Cambridge Health Alliance said in a statement, “It is a priority for CHA to ensure that all of our employees have access to appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) that is safe, protects their health and limits risk of infection spread. We are extremely proud of the thoughtful and creative ways we achieved this.”