As the shortage of protective gear worsens at hospitals across the county and in the D.C. region, some health care workers are having to choose between the health of their families and the health of their patients.
Kelly Stanton, a nurse at Sibley Memorial Hospital, is among them. She said she has always been the helper, but the coronavirus pushed that notion to the limit.
“There is nothing I could ever compare this to, and in my wildest imagination would I ever have believed this is even possible,” Stanton said.
After 28 years of nursing, Stanton handed in her resignation to the Northwest D.C. hospital, which Johns Hopkins Medicine runs.
“It was heart-wrenching, and it was extremely hard, but when they started saying that we were going to have to wear a mask and a gown a whole shift, and I’m telling you I would have been fired for that three weeks ago, it’s insane to me,” Stanton said.
Each year, Stanton said, Sibley Hospital had its staff get fitted for a specialty N95 mask that seals to the health care provider’s face, unlike surgical masks that let air in.
She said there is a specialized protocol for how to remove the masks to ensure doctors and nurses don’t transfer any viral particles on the outside of the mask onto themselves or another patient.
However, when the masks are reused, she said the virus gets inside the mask and has the potential to spread to anyone nearby.
In a statement, spokesman Gary Stephenson wrote in part, “Our strategies to preserve Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) are consistent with the CDC guidelines on conserving surgical and N95 masks to ensure we adhere to all proper protocols for protection, screening, testing and treatment.
Stephenson said there is no limit on gown use; however, “all employees, particularly those who are not in areas that require PPEs, are encouraged to use this equipment judiciously out of consideration for the employees who need it when they care with COVID-positive patients.”
In the end, Stanton said the difficult decision had to be made with her family in mind.
“What if I came home and exposed my husband and he got it? What if, God forbid, he died,” she asked.
Stanton is terrified and losing sleep over the risk to her friends and colleagues who are on the front lines. She thinks some might follow her lead and give their notice.
“I think it’s going to be extremely hard for health care workers to see their friends be put on ventilators and die. You’re putting them in a profoundly difficult situation,” Stanton said.
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