“I feel like nurses are sheep being led to the slaughter” says one intensive care unit nurse

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A national survey of more than 1,000 nurses reveals harrowing conditions on the front lines of the pandemic, and the urgent need for greater action by the Trump administration to protect patients, caregivers and communities. The survey exposes that, even though it has been three months since the first U.S. case, the vast majority of nurses are still struggling without sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE), paid sick days or access to testing. Tellingly, 92 percent of nurse respondents said the federal government is not “doing enough to ensure there is sufficient PPE and other protections for healthcare staff.”

Nurses1“I feel like nurses are sheep being led to the slaughter, and our dedication to our patients is being exploited,” said Kathy Montanino, a registered nurse for more than 12 years in the intensive care unit at Riverside Community Hospital in California, part of the for-profit HCA chain. “We’re being told to re-use disposable N95 masks and gowns that could be covered in coronavirus, making nurses into disease vectors for other patients and staff in the hospital. We also don’t have enough goggles or face shields. My husband is a respiratory therapist at my hospital, we’re raising three young boys, and we’re terrified that we could be exposing them to infection.”

The survey had these alarming findings (percentages are rounded to the nearest whole):

  • 92 percent of respondents answered “No” when asked, “Do you think the federal government is doing enough to ensure there is sufficient PPE and other protections for healthcare staff?”
  • 82 percent of respondents answered “No” when asked, “Do you and your co-workers have enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to safely care for your patients and avoid contracting the virus?”
  • 85 percent of respondents answered “No” when asked, “Can staff request and receive COVID-19 testing quickly and effectively at your hospital if they fear exposure?”
  • 80 percent of respondents answered “No” when asked, “Does your hospital have sufficient staffing in place to handle the anticipated surge of COVID-19 patients?”
  • 78 percent of respondents answered “No” when asked, “Is your hospital’s paid sick time policy adequate to meet the needs of staff who might get sick?”
  • 69 percent of respondents answered “No” when asked, “Does your workplace have clear protocols, isolation rooms and directives on how to handle suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases?”

“Nurses are part of this essential workforce in our country who are fighting for the lives of patients and carrying the rest of us safely through this pandemic, while far too many are getting infected and some are dying. And these deaths are an outrage, because with leadership from this administration, they could have been prevented,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). “There can be no human or economic recovery for our country until every nurse and every worker — airport worker, fast food worker, grocery store worker —  has the personal protective equipment and support needed to protect their patients, families and communities. Our demand for the Trump administration is to stop creating chaos and do your job.”

Many nurses said that being part of a  union allows them to speak up and advocate for their patients and coworkers without fear of being disciplined or terminated. Kerry Labarbera, who has been a registered nurse for 22 years and is a member of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East working in the Boston Medical Center emergency room said:

“Even though we have the most COVID-19 patients in Boston, we have  been working with the hospital administration through our union so they are more transparent and responsive. Management has increased communication with the staff and has been better about trying to get us the personal protective equipment we need. Still, like many of my colleagues, I don’t have the paid sick time I need if I get infected and have to be out for an extended period. Congress and President Trump should have a coordinated plan to get every hospital the necessary testing, protective equipment and funding for paid sick days.”

The Nurse Alliance of SEIU Healthcare, which represents 80,000 registered nurses, is calling on Congress and the Trump administration to immediately enact policies which will ensure desperately needed protections for nurses, healthcare workers and all workers, including:

  • Producing and distributing sufficient personal protective equipment.
  • Access to testing.
  • Paid sick leave.
  • Affordable healthcare.
  • Critical supports like affordable child care and emergency housing.
  • Essential worker pay.

“Almost 10,000 U.S. healthcare workers have been infected with the coronavirus and dozens have died — this is shameful,” said Martha Baker, who has been a registered nurse for over four decades, and is chair of the Nurse Alliance of SEIU and president of SEIU Local 1991 in Florida. “It is paramount that we support our nurses and caregivers with the personal protective equipment and other resources they need. We can’t let them fall, because if they fall our nation is in real trouble. We see all these other countries with much higher standards of protective equipment for their frontline workers. I want to ask President Trump, how is it that the richest country on earth can’t produce enough masks and provide basic sick leave for our healthcare heroes?”


About the Survey

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Nurse Survey was fielded April 5–22, 2020. The opt-in survey was conducted online in English using the Wufoo form builder, and included a national sample of 1,060 nurses living in the United States. The survey has a credibility interval of plus or minus 4 percentage points for all respondents.

The Nurse Alliance of SEIU Healthcare represents over 80,000 registered nurses across 21 states. The Service Employees International Union is an organization of nearly 2 million members united by their belief in the dignity and worth of workers and the services they provide. SEIU is dedicated to improving the lives of workers and their families and creating a more just and humane society.

Protect All Workers

Workers at the forefront of the growing Coronavirus pandemic recently launched Protect All Workers, a demand calling on leading industries — from airlines to hospitals to fast-food and beyond — to take immediate, sweeping, and concrete actions to protect the health, safety and financial security of all workers in America. Backed by the 2 million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and workers in the Fight for $15 and a Union, Protect All Workers is mobilizing thousands of working people to pressure corporate leaders and elected officials to protect all workers amid the global pandemic and economic crisis.

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