BY CLARE HOWARD
OSF Saint Francis Medical Center issued a policy Tuesday prohibiting employees from buying, borrowing or making their own personal protective equipment like face masks.
At a time COVID-19 is sweeping across America taking a devastating toll, healthcare providers are on the frontline in what the president calls “a war.” Yet hospitals and their medical workers across the country are battling this pandemic without adequate personal protective equipment or PPE.
Many healthcare workers are making their own protective masks rather than doing without. However, OSF has just banned that practice.
OSF issued this directive to its staff:
“OSF SFMC PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL STAFF MARCH 24, 2020 POLICY REGARDING THE USE OF PRIVATE PPE AT OSF: The Medical Staff Officers, along with Dr. Sparrow (Chief Medical Officer), Dr. Gorman (Medical Director of Quality/Safety), and Dr. John Farrell (Infectious Disease): The use of private PPE will currently not be allowed at OSF Peoria for the routine care of patients. The use of PPE will be provided by OSF through the proper channels for the care of all high risk patients. There may come a point in time where OSF Peoria will allow the use private PPE as determined by the Medical Staff Officers. The situation is very dynamic and is being closely followed by the Medical Staff Officers along with OSF administration. We are balancing the risks of exposure to health care providers versus the risks of running out of PPE, whether supplied by OSF or private use.”
One OSF healthcare worker who spoke on the condition of anonymity called the directive “unconscionable. At a moment when we are asking nurses and other health care workers to step up and protect people, we must be able to protect them as well.”
The source said that one day after the directive was issued, staff at the hospital was continuing to use their own PPE, adding “Unity Point has a very different policy so this is strictly OSF, not a CDC recommendation . . . . For OSF to forbid personal protection masks is callous at best. Hoarding the supply of low cost masks (not the PPE materials like N95s that are custom fitted to each employee) at the expense of employee self-protection feels like a business decision.”
National Nurses United, the largest union of registered nurses, has protested the shortages of PPE and is calling on Congress to pass HR6139 forcing the Trump administration to declare an occupational and public health emergency.
When asked about this advocacy by National Nurses United, the source said OSF has aggressively fought any efforts by nurses to unionize.
HR6130, the COVID-19 Health Care Workers Protection Act, is co-sponsored by Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill, and was introduced by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va.
In response to a query, OSF issued this statement:
“OSF has always followed best practices with respect to the spread of infectious conditions. Following federal health and safety guidelines, OSF HealthCare provides properly approved personal protective equipment when necessary, including protective gowns and gloves; National Institutes of Safety and Health (NIOSH)-certified disposable N95 respirators that provide a tighter fit and more protection from airborne particles; and eye protection, to those providing care to high risk patients. It is important that the appropriate level of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) be utilized for the specific circumstance, and that equipment meet appropriate standards, which is challenging with items or equipment from an unknown source. It is also important for OSF to follow CDC and IDPH recommendations for methods to conserve supplies, particularly during a pandemic. The health and safety of our frontline Mission Partners is of utmost importance to us. Our hospital leaders and experts, such as our infection preventionists, closely monitor the spread of infection and the protective measures taken against it.”
UnityPoint Health issued this statement:
“This is a very dynamic and fluid situation, and like all other health systems, UnityPoint Health is actively monitoring and responding to changes in the market for COVID-19 related supplies. The safety and care of our patients, their families, guests and team members is always our top priority and we are supplying our staff and providers with the CDC recommended PPE. Manufacturers are increasing production of masks and gowns to help alleviate any shortage situations, and we are working closely with our medical supply distributor and mask manufacturers to maintain an adequate supply of various masks.”
Unity Point has called on the public to help sew and donate face masks. For a pattern, go to www.unitypoint.org/help
This article will be updated as more information develops.