Members of the California Nurses Association (CNA) and National Nurses United (NNU) organized an online briefing for the California Congressional Delegation, with hopes that congress steps up to meets the needs of healthcare workers during the highest recorded surge of Covid-19 cases.

As numbers continue to spike, hospital conditions have become unacceptable for frontline medical workers. The inadequate funding behind public health has led to a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), understaffed personnel, and neglect for the protocol of infectious disease control.

With over 3 million confirmed cases and over 38,000 deaths in California, reports say that 1 out of every 12 people in the state has tested positive for coronavirus. “We are dealing with an absolute catastrophe throughout the state. In Los Angeles County, one person is dying of Covid-19 every 6 minutes… Despite this unprecedented surge in infections and hospitalizations, the state has left nurses unprotected,” said CNA and NNU Executive Director, Bonnie Castillo as she makes her opening remarks.

Zenei Cortez, RN, Kaiser Permanente, South San Francisco, President of the California Nurses Association and National Nurses United (file photo)

The health of medical workers is highly dependent on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The limited access to PPE has left nurses, doctors, and other frontline workers dangerously ill-equipped to care for Covid-19 patients. Their limited access to supplies like protective gowns, medical coveralls, medical gloves, and respiratory protection (air-purifying respirators, elastomeric respirators, and N95 filtering facepiece respirators) can create perilous conditions in an overcrowded hospital setting.

“Nurses throughout California are reporting suboptimal PPE; being told to wear an N95 respirator for an entire 12hour shift,” said Castillo, “Some nurses are being told to wear the same N95 respirator mask between Covid-19 positive patients and non-positive patients. This is especially happening in hospitals that are not even separating them into different units. This obviously increases the risk of spreading of Covid-19.”

The impact of staff-shortages has been increasingly concerning as more test positive for coronavirus. Surpassing the maximum capacity of hospital beds, and increased patient-to-nurse ratio which continues to jeopardize the health of frontline workers.

Many nurses are stretched thin, now caring for more patients than typically allowed under state law. The state began issuing waivers that allow hospitals to temporarily bypass a strict nurse-to-patient ratios law due to the overwhelming increase in inpatient hospitalization—a move they say is pushing them beyond their threshold of exhaustion and significantly affecting patient care.

Bonnie Castillo, RN, Executive Director of National Nurses United and California Nurses Association (File Photo)

Registered Nurse at the St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, Laura Wheatley, stated “The safe staffing law mandates one nurse for two ICU level patients. Now with the surge, our ratio is 6 to 1. Significantly threatening the patient’s safety; management is insisting that we can handle all of these patients, but we can’t when the entire department has critical ICU level patients.” The intensive care unit, also known as a critical care unit, is a special department of a hospital that provides intensive medical care. “A critical patient is someone who is under imminent threat of death. A ratio of 6 to 1 provides 10 minutes of care per hour max—for someone who may be barely grasping to life,” said Wheatly.

Nurses say they have patients receiving treatment in hallways while urgent care beds are used as long-term accommodations; in some cases, if beds are not available, patients receive treatments on paramedic gurneys until a bed can be located, prohibiting the paramedic’s ability to respond to the next 9-1-1 call.

Registered Nurse at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles and CNA Board Member, Tinny Abogado, shared her experience saying, “I have been on both sides of this pandemic, as a nurse and as a family member. Last month, my father passed away from Covid-19. He was not at my hospital; he was at another hospital in Los Angeles that also had a ratio waiver. I learned that the nurses who were caring for him in ICU had four patients! They are supposed to have just two! My dad was very sick, and I do not know if he could have survived. But it makes you wonder, imagine if you have a loved one in the hospital and his or her nurse had double or triple the workload.”

To close the briefing, nurses expressed urgency for congress to pass President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, as well as their immediate solutions for the overwhelming physical and emotional demands coming from the rise in coronavirus cases.

Registered Nurse at Kaiser Permanente in South San Francisco, and President of the CNA and NNU, Zenei Cortez closed with “Our proposal for comprehensive Covid-19 response has 3 umbrella categories: First, fully protecting nurses and other essential workers; Second, building effective and comprehensive federal public health infrastructure and programs; Third, advancing health equity… We need congress to work closely with President Biden to make sure that production and distribution of PPE and other critical medical supplies are drastically increased.”

President Biden’s American Rescue Plan is an economic relief fund of $100 million, “God willing, not only do 100 million, we’re going to do more than that. We have to move,” said President Biden during the White House Press Briefing. The plan includes a $2000 direct stimulus payment, extended unemployment benefits, rental assistance for families facing eviction, emergency funding for essential workers (police officers, firefighters, first responders, nurses), “flexible grants” for small business owners, increased minimum wage to $15, investments in infrastructure, as well as emergency food and nutrition assistance for tens of millions of children and families.

Bonnie Castillo stated, “We are very pleased that President Biden has included these items in the proposed American Rescue Plan. We need members of Congress to pass this new pandemic response plan right away.”