By Teresa Koenen, RN
St. Peter Forensic Mental Health
MN Department of Human Services
I wish healthcare administrators would just be honest with us.
I am a nurse for the State of Minnesota at our forensic mental health program in St. Peter. We care for people who have mental illness and have harmed others. If a patient contracts COVID, we would care for them in our facility unless they required hospitalization.
We need appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) if we are to protect ourselves and other patients from contracting the virus.
But the problem is our administration won’t give us the appropriate PPE.
As of early March, all the recommendations said to use N95 respirators when caring for suspected or confirmed COVID patients. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has maintained those guidelines to protect workers. Meanwhile, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has issued crisis-level recommendations if facilities are out of PPE and don’t have any other options. But they have clarified that those recommendations are only when facilities have essentially run out of N95 masks.
What is our administration telling us? That we don’t need N95 masks! They say they are following CDC guidelines and Minnesota Hospital Association advice.
First of all, the Minnesota Hospital Association is a trade association of hospital CEOs that lobbies the legislature – not an organization that issues safety guidelines. Secondly, our facility has N95 masks in storage, so they haven’t run out!
Our administrators even said the OSHA and CDC guidelines “are not supported by basic scientific principle.” Are they claiming to know more than OSHA when it comes to keeping nurses and healthcare workers safe?
I just wish health care administrators would say, “We want all healthcare workers to have N95 masks and the highest levels of protection so you don’t contract the virus, but we’ve run out and this is the best we can do.”
Nurses study healthcare research, and we read the news. We know that hospital administrators didn’t stock up on PPE in preparation for a possible pandemic, as government and researchers recommended. We know the stockpile of PPE is dangerously low.
But we don’t want you to try to fool us, to give us a false sense of security. Don’t tell us a surgical mask will prevent the spread of the virus just because you’re out of the N95 masks that actually will prevent its spread. Don’t say you’re following CDC guidelines when you’re not and when you’re completely ignoring OSHA guidelines. And don’t point to your trade association as some authority on health and safety.
Tell us the truth. Own up to your lack of preparedness and just be honest with us. You weren’t prepared, and now we don’t have the protection we need.
We’re still going to care for the patients who need us. That’s what we do. Please, just give us the respect we deserve by being honest with us.