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McLaren Flint nurses speak out against working conditions during pandemic

 Justin Arnold, McLaren Flint progressive care nurse
Justin Arnold, McLaren Flint progressive care nurse (WJRT)
Published: Apr. 15, 2020 at 9:42 PM EDT
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(04/15/20) - Members of the McLaren Flint Registered Nurses Union are publicly speaking out about hospital working conditions during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the hospital has responded to their claims.

It is an emotionally charged time for the health care workers who are dealing with two deaths of co-workers just days apart.

In a statement to ABC12 News, union president Kelly Indish calls out the hospital by highlighting excerpts from a series of emails.

“3/26/20 our nurses received an email that states ‘continue to use N-95 respirator for 7 calendar days. Replace the respirator only if its visibly soiled,’” Indish said.

Progressive care nurse Justin Arnold told ABC12 he purchased his own mask and isolation gowns.

"You have days where it's on your face for 12 hours at a time,” Arnold said.

Although he appreciates the scrubs provided by the hospital, he says he wishes disposable PPE wasn’t such an issue.

"We're very thankful for hospital issued scrubs right now but it would be so nice to throwaway the disposable PPE after each use. It would just be so nice to make sure you're not worried about your mask falling apart and trying to track down the coordinator to get a new one,” Arnold said.

The PPE concerns extend to isolation gowns as well.

“4/13/20 our nurses received an email that states ‘While McLaren is fortunate to receive a steady supply of gowns the supply is not adequate to change gowns after every patient encounter.’ This email also goes on to say ‘Wear the gown and keep it on while moving between rooms of suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients.’ The local has contacted a supplier for further gowns although we were informed that McLaren Hospital had an adequate supply and was not interested in purchasing,” Indish said.

In a statement to ABC12, McLaren explained what changes it’s implemented and how what guidelines it’s followed concerning PPE.

“Since the guidelines changed rapidly during the onset of COVID-19, we created a 24/7 PPE Manager whose sole responsibility is to ensure our team members have the proper PPE and are adhering to the latest state and federal safety guidelines,” the statement reads.

The nurses claims don’t stop with concerns over PPE. They say they’re “bleeding for critical care nurses to care for your loved ones” and point to the need for more training. Arnold said he knows what it’s like to have to fill the role of an ICU nurse.

"I had an instance where I had an ICU level patient who had orders for ICU bed but we didn't have the space, so I took care of that patient for multiple days in a row,” Arnold said. "We're busy. We're overrun. We're short staffed at the moment in these areas, you know, the COVID care. We’re burning the candle at both ends it feels like."

McLaren, however, talks about the additions there to assist doctors and nurses with COVID-19 patients.

“We have added additional physicians – pulmonologist, hospitalists, and others – on the units caring for coronavirus patients to supplement the traditional care team,” according to the statement.

Indish also points out that reimbursement for mileage of home care nurses has been decreased while other area hospitals are providing added incentives.

You can read both statements here:

McLaren Flint statement to ABC12

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The safety of our team members and our patients is always a top priority of McLaren Flint, and has been even more of a focus since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. We deeply value our frontline team members who are providing care to every single one of our patients during this unprecedented time in our history. We also truly appreciate the support staff who are keeping our facility clean, providing meals to patients and employees, maintaining our buildings and grounds, and the numerous other roles needed to care for our community.

To ensure the wellbeing of our team members and patients, McLaren has instituted a number of enhanced protocols during the coronavirus pandemic.

From the onset of the pandemic we have been screening patients, our employees, and physicians 24/7 for any COVID-19 symptoms as they enter our facility.

We have increased our nursing ratios on units caring for coronavirus patients and created a dedicated team to respond to persons under investigation for COVID-19, relieving the burden from the staff on the unit.

We have added additional physicians – pulmonologist, hospitalists, and others – on the units caring for coronavirus patients to supplement the traditional care team.

We immediately offered just-in-time training and education for staff regarding the safe use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and others. Since the guidelines changed rapidly during the onset of COVID-19, we created a 24/7 PPE Manager whose sole responsibility is to ensure our team members have the proper PPE and are adhering to the latest state and federal safety guidelines.

Due to a worldwide shortage of many supplies, the guidelines about the safe reuse of PPE evolved rapidly. McLaren proactively implemented a number of sterilization processes to extend the use of scarce PPE, including using ultraviolet germicidal irradiation to sterilize N95 masks. This process is approved by multiple federal agencies and ensures our staff can continue to care for our community safely during this pandemic.

We have created educational videos to explain safe PPE usage and proper donning and doffing procedures that have been made available to all staff.

We have provided hospital-issued scrubs to staff caring for coronavirus patients.

McLaren has also made the emotional health of our team members a priority. When front line staff requested areas of respite within the hospital, the McLaren Flint Foundation partnered with the patient experience team to create 10 “Zen Dens” in multiple patient care areas. These provide a quiet place for staff to relax, meditate, stretch, and reflect.

We also are fortunate to have an amazing behavioral health team made up of psychiatrists and psychologists providing emotional support to the McLaren Flint Team. The team has been providing one-on-one support sessions, virtual support groups, and created educational videos and materials to help our team through this challenging time.

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McLaren Flint Registered Nurses statement to ABC12

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I’m writing today to highlight the current working conditions of our AFSCME Local 875 McLaren Flint Registered Nurses in hopes of support and possible resolutions for the following issues:

3/26/20 our nurses received an email that states “continue to use N-95 respirator for 7 calendar days. Replace the respirator only if its visibly soiled’.

4/13/20 our nurses received an email that states “While McLaren is fortunate to receive a steady supply of gowns the supply is not adequate to change gowns after every patient encounter”. This email also goes on to say “Wear the gown and keep it on while moving between rooms of suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients”. The local has contacted a supplier for further gowns although we were informed that McLaren Hospital had an adequate supply and was not interested in purchasing.

We are bleeding for critical care nurses to care for your loved ones while Hurley, Genesys and other surrounding hospitals are offering incentives to entice Registered nurses to care for COVID-19 patients. McLaren Flint’s response to this incentive request is “we have nothing to offer at this time”.

In the beginning of this pandemic we pleaded with management to train nurses to work in critical care so we would be prepared for this. Not only did our cries for help go unanswered but they continue to reassign RNs who are not trained in critical care to these patients.

McLaren Home Care Group notified the nurses today that pay for mileage reimbursement will be decreased. These nurses are seeing positive COVID patients that have been discharged from the hospital although still contagious with the virus. Surrounding hospitals and home care groups are offering incentives such as extra PTO, double time or some sort of acknowledgement.

This is very disheartening to our nurses that are risking their lives daily on the front line of this pandemic. This is a time to show respect for all the nurses rather than treat them as if they are replaceable.

Two co-workers caring for COVID-19 patients lost their lives while 40 plus nurses are off work with positive results or symptoms. McLaren’s failure to train additional RNs for critical care, failure to provide incentives for nurses to pick up extra shifts, and lack of supplies and equipment is very discouraging.

We hear from our nurses every day. Their fears range from physical and mental exhaustion to being terrified for their lives and safety of their families. Local 875 is asking the employer to follow suit with what other hospitals are doing and provide a safe environment for our nurses and patients. Our Nurses are committed to providing the best possible care for our patients and deserve the lifesaving resources to do so.

Kelly Indish

President of Local 875