Nurses in multiple states to protest over 'lack of preparedness'

"Protecting our patients is our highest priority, but it becomes much harder when we don't have the safe protections," one nurse said.
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Nurses protest in front of Research Medical Center April 1, 2020 in Kansas City, Mo. The workers were among several groups nationwide protesting HCA Healthcare hospitals claiming the hospital chain put staff and patients at risk during the coronavirus pandemic because of a lack of personal protective equipment.Charlie Riedel / AP

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By Janelle Griffith

Nurses at hospitals in multiple states are protesting what they describe as one of the nation's largest hospital chains' "lack of preparedness" amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The National Nurses Union, which represents 10,000 registered nurses at 19 hospitals managed by HCA Healthcare in California, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada and Texas, is demanding that the hospital chain provide optimal personal protective equipment (PPE) for nurses and other staff.

HCA Healthcare spokesman Harlow Sumerford the company is doing everything it can to equip patient care teams to provide safe, effective care to the people they serve.

"The National Nurses Union is trying to use this crisis to advance its own interest — organizing more members," Sumerford said in a statement to NBC News.

"The pandemic has strained the worldwide supply of personal protective equipment, including masks, face shields and gowns, a challenge that is not unique to HCA Healthcare or any other health system in the United States," Sumerford said, in part. "While we are doing everything in our power to secure additional supplies, and we are following CDC protocols for using and conserving PPE, the worldwide shortage is a reality that we are addressing with realistic, workable solutions."

Nurses at HCA’s Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, will deliver a petition to hospital managers on Thursday with their concerns about hospital preparedness in the battle against COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

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Some nurses at HCA hospitals have reported that they have had to work without proper protective equipment and are told to unsafely reuse masks. Nurses at Central Florida Regional Hospital in Sanford, Florida, said they were told they could not wear masks while working because it "scared the patients," according to Jean Ross, a registered nurse and president of National Nurses United.

HCA Healthcare's spokesman did not address specific allegations raised by the National Nurses Union in the company's statement Thursday.

NBC News reached out to Central Florida Regional Hospital for comment about this allegation but did not immediately hear back.

"Protecting our patients is our highest priority, but it becomes much harder when we don't have the safe protections which puts us in danger of becoming infected," Angela Davis, a registered nurse who works in a unit dedicated to treating coronavirus patients at Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri, said in a statement. "If we are no longer able to be at the bedside, who will be there to care for our patients?"

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The union president said HCA Healthcare can afford to properly prepare for the pandemic, noting that over the past decade, the hospital chain has made more than $23 billion.

"For the wealthiest hospital corporation in the United States to show such disregard for the health and safety of its caregivers, is disgraceful and unconscionable," Ross said.

Gary Mousseau, a registered nurse who works in endoscopy at Fawcett Memorial Hospital in Port Charlotte, Florida, said it has been "disheartening" for nurses across the country "to see HCA’s poor response" to their concerns while facing the gravest public health crisis in a century.