Majority of 23,000 US nurses surveyed report having to reuse disposable PPE

A new survey conducted by National Nurses United (NNU) found that a majority of respondents reported having to reuse personal protective equipment (PPE) intended for one-time use and reported a perceived extreme lack of regard for RN and patient safety by their employers.

One-third of the nurses who participated in the survey said they were expected by their employer to use their own sick leave, vacation, or paid time off if they were to contract COVID-19. 

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8d52feeb-Health Care Professionals Treat Coronavirus Patients On The Acute Care Floor Of Harborview Medical Center

FILE - Nurse Karen Hayes administers care to a patient in the acute care COVID-19 unit at Harborview Medical Center on May 7, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

National Nurses United, the largest union for registered nurses in the United States, released the survey on May 20 fof over 23,000 nurses, many of whom cited a “complete disregard for worker and public health on the part of health care employers and the government.”

  • 87 percent reported being forced to reuse a single-use disposable respirator or mask when working with a patient who has tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Over 28 percent of respondents reported having to reuse a respirator with confirmed COVID-19 patients.
  • 72 percent of nurses providing care for patients with the coronavirus also reported having been exposed to the disease without the appropriate PPE.
  • 27 percent of respondents providing care to confirmed COVID-19 patients reported having been exposed without the appropriate PPE and having worked within 14 days of exposure.
  • Only 16 percent of nurses reported actually being tested for COVID-19. Of the nurses who have been tested, over 500 have reported a positive result.

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In a separate survey released by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United (CNA/NNU) on May 21, California nurses also reported high rates of reusing PPE.

“The richest country in the world will call nurses heroes without even bothering to invest in mass producing N95 respirators and other equipment to keep nurses alive,” says CNA/NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN. “Nurses signed up to care for their patients. They did not sign up to die needlessly on the front lines of a pandemic.* *Our message to employers and the Trump administration is: Platitudes are empty without protections. For our sake, for the public’s sake—give us PPE.”

Just before the novel coronavirus outbreak became widespread in March and April, National Nurses United released a survey on Feb. 24 from 4,700 respondents regarding whether or not they felt an adequate plan is in place or if they have enough supplies to deal with a possible widespread outbreak of the virus in the U.S.

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Only 9 percent of respondents reported that they were aware of a plan in place to handle isolating a patient infected with COVID-19. Fourty-six percent reported that they had access to N95 respirators on their units, while only 20 percent reported access to powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs) on their units. 

Maureen Dugan, a registered nurse of 31 years who serves on the board of directors for the California Nurses Association blamed the "for profit" system of American health care for the general lack of preparation many nurses feel in the face of an outbreak. 

"Things like staffing are very expensive, things like equipment and supplies are expensive, so they [health officials] want to keep it to the absolute minimum necessary, and in a case like this, we're not going to have enough of everything needed to care for the public.“

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As of May 21, Over 5 million people worldwide had been confirmed infected by the novel coronavirus, and about 330,000 deaths had been recorded, including about 94,000 in the U.S. and around 165,000 in Europe, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University and based on government data.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.