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San Joaquin General Hospital nurses demand more is done to protect them during pandemic

Nurses say the hospital has been understaffed for weeks and they aren't getting the proper personal protective equipment everyday.
Credit: ABC10
Outside the entrance of the San Joaquin General Hospital.

SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY, Calif. — A group of nurses at San Joaquin General Hospital is demanding more be done to protect them while treating coronavirus patients.

The group planned a  Friday morning press at the hospital, calling on the hospital’s administration to change staffing protocol during the pandemic.

The number of people in the hospital has remained steady in San Joaquin County at more than 200 in recent months. About a third of those are in the Intensive Care Unit, county data shows.

That's a big concern for nurses at San Joaquin General Hospital. 

According to San Joaquin nurses represented by California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, the nation’s largest and fastest-growing nurses union, they've been understaffed for weeks and aren't getting the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) every day, resulting in many nurses being out sick.

“We are washing our masks and making them, reuse them, that’s just not safe for us,” said San Joaquin General Hospital nurse Annie Misaki.

Nurses are now demanding change because they say the hospital isn't hiring more nurses which could have dangerous consequences. 

"We are all stressed out, everyone is overworked, we are burned out and there's just no support. We know that safe staffing makes nurses safe and that also makes the patients safe," Misaki said.

In some cases, the consequences can even cost lives, Misaki told ABC10. 

"It's not about the nurses, it's about the patients. If the nurses aren't safe, the patients aren't safe," she said.

Additionally, according to Misaki, the lack of PPE and understaffing has led to many exposures and infections among nurses and other frontline health care workers. 

“Nurses are having to take on larger assignments than what they’re used to and we just want everyone to know that we are struggling. We need the proper PPE. We need the support of our administration and our hospital,” she said.

Hospital officials told ABC10 they’re doing everything to keep all medical staff safe. That includes hiring nearly 20 full-time nurses, opening a few other new positions, and paying staff overtime. The supply of PPE is adequate, but the hospital is re-processing used N-95 masks and restoring them in case new ones are not available, officials said.

However, Misaki argues that’s not the case and more needs to be done to improve working conditions. 

"They haven't had any communication with us," she said.

San Joaquin General Hospital sent ABC10 the following statement:

“The health and safety of our nurses and all of our hospital staff is of paramount importance. We appreciate the difficult circumstances they face every day, in the workplace and at home as well. In order to address the significant increase in COVID-19 patients, the County has implemented numerous protocols to keep our medical staff safe.”

They also shared a list of protocols being followed at all county hospitals:

  • Twenty new full-time nursing positions have been approved and all are nearly filled.
  • All full and part-time RN staff are being offered extra shifts and paid overtime if applicable.
  • Additional hospital space has been identified to treat the surge of COVID and non-COVID patients.
  • A limited number of elective and semi-urgent surgeries are being performed if delaying the cases could result in significant patient harm.
  • The supply of Personal Protective Equipment N95 masks is currently adequate, but San Joaquin General Hospital (SJGH) is re-processing used masks in accordance with FDA guidelines and is being stored in the event new PPE is not available.
  • The trauma service remains fully functional and continues to serve all of San Joaquin County.

Officials also said the hospital received a waiver for nurse staffing ratios from the Department of Health Care Services for COVID-related patient surges in the ICU, telemetry, and Emergency Department areas.

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