Around Our Regions: Florida Nurses Push Back on Unsafe Protocols

July 14, 2020

Florida_fa.jpgAs Florida’s COVID-19 crisis escalated, Registered Nurses represented by 1199SEIU at institutions operated by Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) rejected COVID-19 protocols handed down by their employer because they weakened protections and increased the vulnerability of caregivers at HCA facilities around the state.

As healthcare workers struggled to keep themselves and their patients safe as the pandemic headed toward its May peak, the company announced that as of April 13 only staff performing the most severe “aerosol-generating procedures, such as intubation, nebulization, bronchoscopy or suctioning of COVID-positive and COVID-possible patients will be provided a protective N-95 respirator, while caregivers providing all other procedures on these patients may only utilize a less-protective mask and equipment.”

And in response to HCA’s move, workers held protests demanding that healthcare giants step up and protect the workers on the front lines of care at its institutions. The move drew an especially sharp rebuke from caregivers after HCA’s initial protocols provided for the superior N-95 protection for all workers caring for patients confirmed with the COVID-19 coronavirus or those who were possible carriers.

HCA is a multi-billion dollar forprofit company and operates dozens of hospitals throughout Florida. The corporation also received a substantial portion of the $2 trillion governmental stimulus and 6.2% payroll tax relief, which is earmarked to benefit workers serving on the front lines of the crisis.

University Hospital and Medical Center RN Pat Diaz called the move “a giant step backwards.” “Under these new protocols, we will have much more risk to contract the virus ourselves,” said Diaz, a long-time 1199 Florida activist.

“We’ll be wearing inferior protection while providing care to patients who are sick and/or highly contagious with a deadly condition.”

In addition to worker actions decrying the move, 1199SEIU has sent a cease-and-desist letter to HCA demanding the hospital chain reverse the “significant and medically questionable change” in procedures. The company’s April 16 report claimed that it has available a HCA had a 29-day supply of protective respirators currently in inventory, calling itself the “safest place to practice and receive care in South Florida.” Some nurses were prepared to refuse assignments if they were put in harm’s way unnecessarily and reported being threatened with disciplinary action. Despite HCA’s hardline stance, nurses stood fast, citing the well-being of their patients, themselves, their own families and communities.

At press time, Florida HCA members were continuing the demand that the corporation provide the highest levels of safety equipment to workers.

They were also among the hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers across the country who flooded congressional phone lines and inboxes demanding immediate action from the federal government to protect healthcare workers and provide resources for improved testing and treatment for frontline workers; rapid expansion of the production of essential equipment and necessary personal protective equipment; and the implementation of price controls to stop profiteering.

1199SEIU also points out that healthcare institutions such as HCA have received a substantial portion of the $2 trillion governmental stimulus and 6.2% payroll tax relief, which must largely benefit workers serving on the front lines of the crisis. This support includes paid sick time for employees who are quarantined; hazard pay; keeping staff on payroll so skilled workers are available as the pandemic moved toward a May peak; and more.

1199 Magazine | May / June 2020