CNA’s Struggle to Obtain PPE for a Coronavirus-positive Facility

In a personal narrative from the outset of the US coronavirus outbreak, Alexandra Rodriguez shares her brave attempts to get the equipment she needed to help her patients safely.

COVID-19 is the fear of this generation. The entire world is battling to obtain the proper equipment in order to prevent the spread of the virus. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is what health care workers in nursing homes are begging for—and have been begging for for a long time.  

As a health care worker myself, I find it hard not to put my perspective into words. I have been a certified nursing assistant (CNA) for over seven years and have never experienced a lack of protective equipment.

On March 13, when President Trump declared a national state of emergency, new regulations started to be implemented by the CDC for health care facilities. These regulations were intended to protect patients who are residents of nursing homes from catching the novel virus.

After President Trump declared the state of emergency, all staff members at the nursing home where I work were required to wear cloth face masks made by staff members of the facility. Although the nursing home had proper PPE (like medical-grade face masks), there was not enough to distribute to the entire staff.

The administration decided to hide all PPE from staff members because they were afraid of theft—and because they knew they would need the PPE when the facility faced positive cases of COVID-19. It soon would.

For two weeks, staff members wore cloth coverings over their faces unless they obtained N95 masks on their own. This continued until the facility finally received a shipment of PPE.

One day while I was working a regular shift, a nurse came up to me holding an N95 mask. She explained how all the nurses had received one. CNAs, on the other hand, had not. “That’s not fair,” the nurse said.

While I was looking at the N95 mask in her hand and noticing how other nurses were wearing similar masks, I realized it was true, and I wondered why nurses were given masks while—more often than not—it was the CNAs who provided hands-on care to residents.

This discrimination didn’t unnoticed. Other CNAs complained to the administration, myself included. One morning, I went to the office and respectfully asked the assistant director of nursing for an N95 mask. 

“I’m tired of the attitude I’m getting from you staff members—not you, but other staff. So I’ll hand you a mask,” she said.

On April 25, the National Guard arrived at our facility to test all the residents. Two days later, the results came in: Over forty residents tested positive for the virus. This was on top of the twenty-two residents that had already been confirmed.

In response to all the positive cases, two units were turned into “COVID floors” where staff members were given shields, N95 masks, and gowns in order to enter the units. The rest of the staff had to wear masks.

As time went on and staff members realized how other patients were getting sick after testing negative, we knew we needed all the protective equipment possible in order to make sure we wouldn’t be infected with the virus, too.

The administration was reluctant to part with any additional PPE, so CNAs like myself had to find ways to obtain proper equipment on our own. For one thing, I noticed how more and more staff were breaking, losing, or leaving their face masks at home in order to get new ones since we were just handed one facemask to wear all the time.

As I was walking in to work one morning, I noticed a CNA speaking to a human resources representative and asking to work in a COVID-free unit because his wife was pregnant and he had small children.Then and there, I made the decision to take his place and work for him, not only because I felt empathy for his situation, but because I felt it was a great opportunity to get PPE.

The same morning I made the decision to work on a COVID floor, I asked other CNAs if there were positive cases on the non-COVID floors. They told me, “Yes, there are three rooms with confirmed cases.” Because of that, I asked why the entire staff wasn’t given PPE, and they replied, “Because it’s not a COVID unit, and not all residents have the virus.”

After hearing that, I realized how things were not going to change unless I did something about it. Therefore, I signed up to work on a COVID unit with the proper PPE.

I thought to myself, if there are confirmed cases of COVID 19 on non-COVID floors and the staff is not given the proper equipment, then there is a higher chance of staff getting the virus and transmitting it on those floors. On the other hand, working on a COVID unit where every resident is confirmed positive is actually safer because the staff is property protected.

The lack of PPE and the dilemma it caused has made me realize how drastic situations call for drastic measures and how important it is to speak up and have a voice during these hard times.

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