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Frontline Nurses Frustrated Over Lack Of Support, Union President Says04:01
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A demonstrator wearing a face mask holding signs reading "PPE" (personal protective equipment) protests about the lack of PPE for NHS nursing staff outside of a hospital in London. (Isabel Infantes/AFP/Getty Images)
A demonstrator wearing a face mask holding signs reading "PPE" (personal protective equipment) protests about the lack of PPE for NHS nursing staff outside of a hospital in London. (Isabel Infantes/AFP/Getty Images)

Nurses throughout the country are protesting a lack of protections for treating patients with COVID-19.

And many nurses are sick, too. In California, the state department of public health is reporting more than 1,600 health care workers have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Many frontline health care workers don’t have adequate Personal Protective Equipment [PPE] to guard them against infection, says nurse Zenei Cortez. She works at Kaiser Permanente at South San Francisco Medical Center and serves as co-president of National Nurses United, the largest union of registered nurses in the U.S.

“I am so emotional about this because in my 40 years of nursing, this is the first time I'm seeing this, and it's really breaking my heart,” she says.

Starting last week, National Nurses United organized protests at 15 HCA Healthcare hospitals in North Carolina, Florida, Texas, Missouri, Kansas, Nevada and California. The union is demanding the major hospital chain provide nurses with the PPE they need during the pandemic.

Cortez, who has advocated for safer nurse-to-patient ratios in the past, says part of the problem is that governments consult hospital administrators “who are not really watching out” for frontline workers.

She is calling on California’s governor to establish “strict, specific guidelines” because she says workers at her hospital are being given PPE that is not up to standards. And she says she had to “beg” her unit director to give nurses the proper training on how to put on and take off their gear safely.

“It's kind of hindering us from giving the best care possible because we have a lot of fear and anxiety when we take care of the patients because we know that in some little form we will be exposed and become infected,” Cortez says. “But we go ahead and do our jobs because that's what we signed up for.”


Ashley Locke produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Peter O'Dowd. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on April 9, 2020.

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