Nurses demand fresh PPE from Medstar Washington Hospital Center

Nurses who work at Medstar Washington Hospital Center are demanding new personal protective equipment, saying the hospital continues to provide disinfected masks to reuse.

“It’s really remarkable that we are here in this situation, still demanding basic supplies to keep us safe,” said Michelle Mahon, with National Nurses United.

The union held a livestream event to demand a change for nurses at one of the D.C. area’s largest hospitals. It is asking “optimal PPE be provided to the registered nurses and that the hospital abandons the Battelle so-called ‘decontamination’ process for N95 respirators, which leads to the use of unsanitary and soiled masks,” the NNU said in a release.

In a statement, Medstar Washington Hospital Center said it has continued to invest in new PPE and has met multiple times since May with the union to explain that global demand exceeds supply.

“The safety of our associates is always a top priority, and like more than 500 hospitals across the country, we chose Vapor Phase Hydrogen Peroxide (VPHP) decontamination of N95 masks based on careful consideration of the science and scientific recommendations. The process is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and has emergency use authorization approval from the Food and Drug Administration,” the statement said.

“We would never have re-worn PPE before COVID. Now, 87% of nurses have been asked to reuse respirators,” Mahon said, referring to a poll of the union’s members. She did not provide information on how many members have taken the poll; it has 150,000 members overall.

The practices of reusing disinfected PPE, sometimes for more than a day, means that nurses are treating sick patients and potentially infecting non-COVID patients with the virus by transferring the virus off their PPE, Mahon said.

Such practices led at least 10 nurses out of 36 RNs’ in a medical-surgical unit at Medstar to contract COVID-19, according to the NNU. One of them was Helen Gbodi, 54, who died of the virus at the same hospital where she’d worked for 16 years, the union said.

The union provided information about registered nurse Yuhana Gidey, who was one of at least six other nurses in her unit who became ill with COVID-19 after they cared for an infected patient without the proper PPE, according to NNU.

“I don’t understand why Washington Hospital is not doing everything it can to get us the PPE we need,” said Stephanie Sims, a registered nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit.

“We are being asked to risk our well-being, and the well-being of our communities, when it is not necessary. We know how to protect ourselves from infectious disease,” Sims said. “Certainly, it makes no sense to abandon long-held infectious disease controls in the midst of a pandemic that has claimed the lives of 603,000 people across the world.”

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Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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