Nurses and health-care professionals have the expertise and commitment to tackle the coronavirus crisis. What we don’t have is critical personal protective equipment (PPE) like surgical and N95 masks, powered air purifying respirators, face shields, goggles, gloves, and gowns. In a survey of our membership over the last two days, over 70% said they do not have enough protective equipment to safely take care of their patients.
I know the dedicated nurses and health-care professionals will do whatever it takes to beat this pandemic. But we can’t do it without equipment.
Without protective gear, doctors, nurses, and other hospital workers are exposed to infection, which is then spread to other hospital staff and patients. Like in the United States, Italian hospitals faced shortages of personal protective equipment early on. As a result, over 5,000 hospital workers in Italy have fallen ill, leaving hospitals dangerously understaffed and exacerbating the spread of the virus. The reduction in staff, combined with the surge in new patients, has brought the Italian health-care system to near collapse.
None of PASNAP’s hospitals — which include Temple, Einstein, Jeanes, St. Christopher’s, the Crozer-Keystone Health System, Mercy Fitzgerald, Suburban, Lower Bucks, St. Mary, Eagleville, Brooke Glen, and Pottstown — have enough personal protective equipment to meet the scale of this crisis. The Strategic National Stockpile had, as of a week ago, just 12 million of the 3.5 billion total N95 masks estimated to be needed.
To meet the short-term need, the federal government must immediately distribute all the essential medical equipment in the Strategic National Stockpile. We also need to begin, as soon as possible, a massive manufacturing effort to ensure we have enough equipment for the medium and long-term. While PPE is the most pressing need, we will also need ventilators and other lifesaving machines in short order. I am disappointed that our elected officials have not acted already.
The federal government has the ability to launch the mass manufacture of equipment for the fight against COVID-19 through the Defense Production Act. On the state level, we urge Gov. Tom Wolf to take all actions to retrofit manufacturing facilities in Pennsylvania. Significant portions of the country and state’s manufacturing are currently idle due to the pandemic. Redirecting that capacity toward the production of essential medical equipment would not only help us fight the pandemic, but would provide a much-needed boost to the economy and put workers to work.
On Saturday, one of PASNAP’s leaders at St. Mary Medical Center, Bill Engle, issued an urgent call on Facebook to the Bucks County community asking for N95 masks and other protective equipment. His Facebook video received over 70,000 views in two days. Soon after he put out the call, the supplies began to roll in. St. Mary received thousands of N95 masks. I would like to echo his call and ask all local communities to step in during our time of need and donate any excess N95s, gloves, surgical masks, gowns, and goggles to local hospitals without delay.
But this goodwill will not be nearly enough to meet our long-term supply needs. As nurses and health-care professionals, we are putting ourselves at risk every day to take care of our patients. We need the same level of commitment from our elected officials, to keep us safe, to help us do our work, and to prevent us from spreading the disease to others who are in our care, in our homes, and in our community.
The simple fact is that if we don’t have the equipment we need, more people will get sick, and more people will die. We are on the front lines of this fight. Don’t make us fight unprotected and unarmed.
Maureen May is a nurse in the infant intensive care department at Temple University Hospital and the president of the 8,500-member Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals.