Seton Medical Center employees practice safe distancing at a rally at the hospital on April 2, 2020, to bring awareness to their need for more protective equipment. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)
Two weeks after Daly City’s Seton Medical Center was designated a COVID-19 hospital and saved from closure, nurses are sounding the alarm that they are ill-prepared to take in a projected wave of coronavirus patients.
The hospital is setting aside 177 beds to receive patients as part of a state-funded move to keep all hospitals open during the current public health crisis. But nurses said the state also needs to provide them with the necessary equipment to do their jobs.
“We have not received any PPE (personal protective equipment) from the state of California,” said intensive care nurse Phoebe Minkler at a press conference Thursday. “As we prepare for this surge, we are critically low and we are already utilizing our emergency stockpile here at Seton Medical Center.”
Minkler said each nurse is now being issued only one N95 mask for each 12-hour shift, to help conserve supplies.
“Nurses and frontline healthcare providers, we want to work, we want to be able to take care of patients. But we also have to be able to take care of ourselves and stay safe,” said Minkler.
“We’re losing healthcare providers, we’re losing nurses, physicians all over the country are falling ill to this disease," she added. "In some places like New York they’re having to wear bandannas, they’re having to wear trash bags and things like that. We are hoping that we do not have to resort to that.”
Seton Medical Center President Anthony Armada said that a recent delivery of N95 masks from San Mateo County's supplies will last the hospital another 26 to 30 days, at the current rate of issuing one mask per shift.
Armada said the hospital is following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about extending the use of N95 masks.
"All of us are being responsible to make sure we are following their guidelines," he said.
The hospital is currently treating 15 COVID-19 patients, according to Armada.
But many nurses are concerned about using the same masks to see multiple patients. ICU nurse Debra Amour pointed out the importance of protective equipment to slow transmission of the virus to healthy people.
“If you don’t have the right equipment, our choice is not to go into a room or go into a room and become part of the problem. We ourselves will get sick, and we can spread it into the community,” she said. “We have open heart patients. We have really sick, fragile patients. So for me to be in a room without a mask, without a gown, you’re just spreading the germs around.”
The California Nurses Association represents about 400 nurses at Seton, according to labor representative Julie Tran.
Former San Francisco supervisor John Avalos, who is now an organizer for the National Union of Healthcare Workers which represents clerks and janitorial staff at Seton, said the union has been in touch with state and county officials about the need for more medical supplies like masks and gowns.
“You can’t just designate this hospital as a facility to receive lots of patients and not have the protective equipment that workers are going to need to know they’re safe when they’re saving lives,” Avalos said.
As of Saturday, March 28, the California Department of Public Health released data that 73 healthcare workers statewide had tested positive for COVID-19. That number was up from just 48 the day before. This week, the state stopped releasing data on the number of healthcare workers infected by coronavirus, saying it wanted to better focus its resources.
On Wednesday, April 8, Seton Medical Center will be holding a donation drive to collect N95 masks, sanitizing wipes, and gloves. Items can be dropped off at Holy Child & St. Martin Episcopal Church at 777 Southgate Avenue in Daly City from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.