Robbinsdale Nurse Testifies Before House Lawmakers About Lack of PPE
Members of the Minnesota Nurses Association shared their experiences with state lawmakers Tuesday about working during the COVID-19 pandemic. Frontline workers testified before the House Select Committee on Minnesota’s Pandemic Response and Rebuilding.
The nurses, including a North Memorial Health nurse in Robbinsdale, raised concerns about the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and what they described as “haphazard” and rapidly changing safety procedures. Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, chaired the committee, which was held virtually via Zoom.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, as of May 17, hospitals only had an in-house supply of 24 days worth of gowns, 47 days of face shields, 133 days worth of face masks, 61 days of non-latex gloves and 81 days of N95 respirators. The state’s data dashboard keeps track of critical care supplies.
Mary Turner, an ICU nurse at North Memorial Health in Robbinsdale and president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, says she’s worried the state’s supply of PPE will run out soon.
“We have been rationing and reusing our personal protective equipment. This is totally foreign to what we were taught in nursing school. This would have been something that would have gotten disciplined in the past and potentially lose our license,” said Turner before the committee. “To be practicing the way we are now with the PPE is totally unacceptable.”
Nurses Worried Elective Surgeries Will Drain PPE Supply
Turner sits on Governor Tim Walz’s COVID-19 task force. She says Minnesota nurses are concerned over the recent return to elective surgeries.
“We were told in the committee that we had enough PPE, which I beg to differ. Rationing PPE and enough in my mind is a contradiction of terms. Because we don’t have enough PPE to be used the proper way,” Turner said.
The ICU nurse also explained to the committee how quickly hospitals run through PPE.
“When a person goes into respiratory distress, they need to be turned on their stomachs. They’re intubated. They are turned on their stomachs to be able to breathe better. It takes seven people in that room, seven gowns, seven gloves, seven masks, seven shields, for one moment in time to turn that person over,” said Turner.
Concern About Nurses Dying from COVID-19.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, more than 1,900 health care workers have tested positive for COVID-19. The North Memorial Health ICU nurse says she fears her fellow co-workers getting sick and even dying from not having enough PPE to go around.
Choking up, Turner said, “I myself spent a weekend caring for a fellow nurse, at my hospital that was fighting for their lives, on a vent. Praying every moment that I took care of this person that they would make it out alive. Thank God they did. But I’m telling you, I dread, I dread, the day that as a labor leader, as a nurse leader, and a fellow bedside care nurse, I dread the day I have to stand in front of the media and report out the first death of a Minnesota nurse, because they weren’t properly protected at the bedside.”
Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley raised the issue of whether Minnesota has changed the standards on PPE use. Turner responded by saying, “our hospitals are having to use PPE at a level they’ve never had to use before.”
Meanwhile hospitals responded to nurse assertions there isn’t enough PPE.
“We’ve been busy trying to secure these items. It is a balancing act,” said Mary Krinkie, vice president of government relations for the Minnesota Hospital Association. “We are going to have to look at the supply chain, versus what are we doing to care for our patients who still need procedures.”
Krinkie also said they might have to go back to the original executive order of holding off on elective surgeries if PPE dropped dangerously low.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, raised the issue of how PPE is being transferred from state warehouses.
“There’s not a storeroom of PPE at the hospitals that management is hiding from you, I’m certain, right? So, they don’t have it. If they had it, they would be giving it to you. So, where is it?” asked Daudt. “The MDE Report says we have it. We’re hearing you need more PPE and that message has been received.”
Representative Hortman said she and Daudt are on the same page about the PPE issue.
“We don’t want you working with inadequate PPE, and we want to find out with regards to the $400 million that we’ve appropriated, to try to provide you with the PPE you need, what the status of that is. I hear the point that we’re in a pandemic and we’re having to suffer from circumstances that nobody wants to, but the No. 1 goal here is to keep our health care workforce safe. So, you can take care of us when we need you,” said Hortman.
Watch the full committee hearing below:
You can find more information about COVID-19 here.