Minnesota nurses concerned over protective supplies during COVID-19 outbreak

Nurses spoke out Wednesday, concerned about a potential shortage of protective gear and other issues related to caring for ill patients.

The Minnesota Nurses Association cited confusing policies and directives in how to care for potential COVID-19 patients in the hospitals.

“We’re all scared, just like you guys,” nurse Cliff Willmeng said. “We are going to see this through from start to finish and we’re gonna take care of the public.”

The MNA brought together nurses from across the region to speak out in the early days of coronavirus battle inside the state’s hospitals. As they gathered, nurses were sure to spread out, taking the six-foot social distancing guidelines seriously.

One of the highest concerns was the supply of the tight-fitting N95 respirator-face mask.

The union gave a demonstration, showing how much more protection frontline healthcare workers can get compared to the more readily available, basic surgical mask.

Nurses demanded that their hospitals stockpile more supplies in the face of a dangerous disease.

“Where are the healthcare workers in Italy getting their full suits? Where are the healthcare workers in China getting their full suits? Why are we not trying to get adequate protective gear for our nurses?” nurse Melanie Timpano asked.

In a phone interview, Dr. Rahul Koranne, President & CEO of the Minnesota Hospital Association, said officials don’t know when the supplies will come in.

“I share the concerns of our front line care team members. Number one, how much equipment is available in the national strategic stockpile? Number two, how much will be allocated to Minnesota? And most importantly, when will that equipment physically appear at the bed side in our hospitals? We are all waiting for those answers,” he said.

To underscore the nurses’ worries, 55% of union members report that the facility they work in is either somewhat or “fully” unprepared for a coronavirus outbreak.

During a phone conference, Kris Ehresmann, Director of Infectious Disease for the Minnesota Department of Health, was asked about the nurses' concerns.

"As a nurse myself, I understand that when you're the person providing direct patient care, you are concerned about your own health. I would say the collective desire is that we're working with the health care system to make sure we have what's needed to keep healthcare workers protected. That's our number one priority," she said. 

Statement from Allina Health

The health and safety of our frontline caregivers is our highest priority at Allina Health.  We continue to follow the CDC and MDH recommendations for personal protective equipment (PPE) when caring for patients who may, or are known to have COVID-19.  We are closely monitoring the PPE supplies we have now and anticipate we will need as this outbreak continues.  Following the MDH PPE recommendations and tracking inventory of PPE helps ensure we are able to provide all of our caregivers the PPE they need.