SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - A flyer circulating among medical staff at Ventura County's Kaiser Permanente Hospitals and clinics claims supervisors threatened to fire nurses "on the spot" if they brought their own personal protective gear, such as N95 masks, and wore them during their shift as they cared for suspected and known COVID-19 patients.
The nurses contacted the NewsChannel 3 Investigates Tipline hoping to get their story out and to describe what they are up against right now. The nurses said they've been forced to bring in their own PPE (personal protective equipment) because hospitals are struggling to find enough masks, gowns and other critical supplies to keep up with the growing number of COVID-19 patients. Since the hospitals can't provide the required life-saving equipment, the nurses said they have no choice but to bring their own protective gear. The only other alternative is using no protection at all.
Kaiser Permanente has facilities throughout California including several in Ventura, Oxnard, Camarillo and Thousand Oaks. NewsChannel 3 contacted Kaiser about the flyer which is being circulated by the California Nurses Association and National Nurses United. It took several attempts to get answers to the specific allegations in the flyer, but a Kaiser spokesman emailed this response: "No one was fired. There was never a threat of anyone being fired. And the protocols for droplet protection, which is the current protocol for COVID-19 assessment and treatment, make clear where N95 masks are used and where they are not." The response was written by Marc Brown, Manager and National PR and Media Relations for Kaiser Permanente in its Oakland headquarters.
NewsChannel 3 also contacted the California Nurses Association and National Nurses United. "It appears Kaiser has now pulled back on the threats of termination according to statements made by their spokespersons after nurses protested widely at several Kaiser hospitals about inadequate PPE and the threats to nurses wearing their own masks," wrote a spokeswoman for CNA and NNU.
The nurses who contacted our NewsChannel 3 Investigates Tipline did not want their identities revealed. They believe they could still be fired, or at the very least reprimanded, for talking publicly about the challenges they face during the health crisis. They said stress is extremely high as they try to care for the sick without getting sick themselves and passing the virus on to family members.
Reports are surfacing around the country about doctors and nurses being fired for talking about what they are seeing every day in hospitals. Ming Lin, an emergency room doctor in Washington State, said he was fired for talking to a newspaper about a Facebook post he made describing the inadequate protective gear he was forced to use. A Chicago nurse reportedly was fired for emailing colleagues about wanting more protective gear. She is suing the hospital. Another Chicago nurse identified on Twitter as @nurse.iv4 posted an emotional video describing how she quit her job over a dispute with hospital management about using her own N95 mask while treating COVID-19 patients.