All hospitals are required to provide medical workers at least one N95 mask per day upon request under a new directive issued Monday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office — as the debate rages over whether there’s still a shortage or rationing of personal protective equipment amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“When a direct caregiver in a hospital asks for a new N95 mask they will receive one at least once a day,” the directive from the governor’s COVID-19 task force said.
The nurses’ union said it was a positive step — but there’s still a long way to go to protect front-line workers from getting infected with COVID-19.
“Inadequate and improper rationing of PPE results in nurses getting sick and further exposes patients to the virus,” said NYS Nurses Association executive director Pat Kane.
Kane called the directive to hospitals to provide at least one new N95 respirator to every “frontline” caregiver daily a “very significant step forward.”
“First, it brings an end to hospital policies permitting the reuse of the same N95 multiple days at a time — policies that are even substandard to the already loosened CDC’s ‘Crisis Capacity’ guidelines for when there is a shortage,” she said, referring to the US Centers for Disease Control.
“And second, it brings a common mandate to all NY hospitals fighting the virus. Equality in care treating patients infected with COVID-19 is essential to the public’s health,” Kane said.
Over the weekend, Kane wrote a blistering letter to the state health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker and demanded action from Cuomo to address “dangerous conditions” in hospitals because of “critical shortages” and rationing of PPE.
The lack of PPE has been a raging controversy for weeks.
A Post expose last month revealed a shortage of gowns so dire that nurses battling the coronavirus pandemic at Mount’s Sinai’s Midtown West hospital resorted to wearing trash bags over their uniforms for protection, while a beloved assistant nursing manager, Kious Kelly, died from the coronavirus. At the time, Mount Sinai insisted there was no shortage of PPE.
Mt. Sinai nurses said they’ve gotten more gowns to wear after The Post report.
Nurses have held protests over inadequate PPE at other hospitals, including the Jacobi and Harlem facilities.
The head of the city’s public hospital system, Dr. Mitchell Katz, said government emergency protocols that rationed PPE is the main reason why front-line staffers complain there’s a shortage.
Just a few months ago, the policy was for doctors or nurses to throw away a mask every time they left a patient’s room to maintain infection control.
“That was the correct way to use a mask,” he said during an interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association.
But during the pandemic they’ve been told to reuse masks for up to five days under emergency protocols, as long as it wasn’t wet or soiled.
“People say, ‘Wait a minute. The reason you’re telling me this is you don’t have enough [masks].’ So it becomes, ‘You’re not protecting me in the best way possible,’” Katz said.
Katz also said there are more PPE supplies now than there were just a week ago, but it’s still a “struggle” to maintain the stockpile.
He said more hospital workers are now getting N95 masks, such as parking attendants, who are exposed to patients and visitors coming to and from the hospital.
While more PPE is available now, “our burn rate keeps going up as we broaden the number of people who are wearing them.”
Cuomo, during a press briefing Monday, said hospitals provide his office with their PPE inventory daily.
“Any hospital that is short, in urgent need of anything we provide them with that material on a daily basis. We do not have any hospital that has said to us: ‘we have an urgent need for x’ that we have not been able to fulfill,” the governor said.
But he acknowledged there is an ongoing challenge, with nurses objecting to protocols to conserve supplies during a pandemic.
“You can have employees in a hospital who say, ‘I don’t like this protocol, I don’t like what the hospital is telling me to do.’ That’s a different set of issues,” the governor said.
“Second caveat: you can have the hospital saying, ‘I only have a three-day supply, and that makes me very nervous. I normally have a 2 month supply.’ Yes, I know that nobody has a two months supply of anything.”
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