Nurses in Athens at ‘Crisis Capacity’ for Protective Equipment

Nurses at both hospitals in Athens are reporting a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, but are not yet receiving hazard or crisis pay.

N95 respirator
An N95 respirator. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Sara Keller)

There is a nationwide shortage of N95 respirators (which are face masks that filter out at least 95% of airborne particles) and other PPE needed to keep nurses and other medical personnel healthy. On March 21, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association sent an open letter to President Trump, urging him to use the Defense Production Act to increase production of medical supplies, including PPE. This act, first used during the Korean War, allows the President to take control over aspects of the civilian economy to ensure that critical supplies are produced for national defense.

Trump has so far declined to use this authority. Meanwhile, hospitals like Saint Mary’s and Piedmont-Athens Regional are down to crisis levels for equipment like N95 respirators.

UPDATE: Trump ordered GM to start producing ventilators today (3/27) using the Defense Production Act.

CDC Recommendations

Frequently Asked Questions 1 - Will we get hazard pay? No. 4 - Are we really re-using equipment? Yes per CDC Guidelines...
A memo sent recently to nurses at Saint Mary’s. Conditions at Piedmont Athens-Regional are similar.

The CDC defines three levels of capacity for N95 respirators (conventional, contingency and crisis) and provides recommendations for each. Currently, both hospitals in Athens appear to be operating at ‘crisis’ capacity, with general re-use of N95 respirators and other PPE. This is what hospitals have been instructed to do in a crisis, but the CDC is clear at the top of these guidelines that “the following measures are not commensurate with current U.S. standards of care.”

After all possibilities for re-use and extended use of respirators are exhausted, the CDC then lists what hospitals should do when no respirators are left. Let’s hope the shortage doesn’t get that far.

Nurses and other healthcare professionals in Athens will be put at increasing risk the longer the COVID-19 crisis lasts. Yet, as seems to be standard throughout the country, they are not receiving hazard pay. It’s unclear when or if they would ever receive it. These are the people the rest of us rely on when we’re sick — if they’re not taken care of, none of us will be. Making a bad problem worse, we also have a nursing shortage in Georgia. This may cause increasing overtime and strain on those we do have, just when we need them the most.

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What You Can Do

1. Stay at home! Don’t get sick. Don’t infect others.

The best way to help nurses, those infected and our entire community is to take the shelter in place order seriously. Don’t go out or be around others if you can help it. Limit unnecessary trips to the grocery store or anywhere else where people are present. Stay within 6 feet of anyone you don’t live with.

2. Volunteer

The Georgia Department of Public Health is calling for volunteers to help alleviate the healthcare labor shortage.

3. Tell Governor Kemp to issue a statewide shelter in place order.

You can call the Governor’s office at (404) 656-1776 or contact him using this online form.

Stay safe! Stay healthy. We’ll get through this.

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