25 Investigates: Mass. nurses say rationing of N95s putting them at risk

25 Investigates: Mass. nurses say rationing of N95s putting them at risk

25 Investigates is hearing from nurses who say the shortage of N95 masks continues to endanger them on the job. Hospitals across the state are desperately trying to protect the limited supply of N95s as we approach the potential surge.

Boston 25 News anchor and investigative reporter, Kerry Kavanaugh spoke with frontline workers who say there’s also a limited supply of nurses, as many are getting sick.

“Now is the time that all nurses taking care of all patients should have N95 masks on to protect themselves. Every patient should be considered a possible positive at this point,” said Sharon Miksch, a nurse at Tobey Hospital in Wareham.

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Miksch says that’s not what’s happening at the hospital she’s worked at for 27 years.

“As it stands now, nurses are only able to wear N95 masks, which gives you the most amount of protection, if patient is COVID -positive,” Miksch said.

If they're COVID-19-pending, Miksch claims nurses have to wear surgical masks with face shields. She says in recent weeks, some are getting sick.

“Who could get one would vary across different shifts, different managers, different floors,” she said.

Amanda Paul has been a nurse St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford for 10 years. Paul says she's never personally been denied an N95, but her co-workers have.

“Honestly what I would like to see is just for everybody that I work with to be protected,” Paul said. “To have concrete policies put in place that this is what we’re doing.”

Southcoast Health operates both St. Luke’s and Tobey hospitals. They told 25 Investigates protecting frontline staff is a top priority:

Our foremost priority is protecting Southcoast’s dedicated and courageous nurses and other frontline staff – for their own safety, for the safety of their loved ones, and so they can continue providing high-quality care to every patient who comes through our doors. Key to this is sourcing, properly using, and conserving supplies in anticipation of a projected surge. Southcoast’s guidance for all nurses across the system – in emergency departments, ICUs, and other areas – is to wear an N95 respirator mask when working with COVID-19 patients. This guidance goes further than CDC recommendations. Our current inventory of PPE is keeping pace with current need, and clinical and operational leadership continue to work locally and globally to secure more. Southcoast nurses know we have their back, and that we always will.
Jacqueline Somerville, RN, Ph.D.Chief Nursing Officer, Southcoast Health

“With the large number of COVID-positive and presumptive patients, we really believe, and [with] the lack of testing, that all people should assume that they are positive,” said Judy Pare with the Mass Nurses’ Association.

Pare agrees the national N95 shortage has placed hospitals in a difficult position. But when asked whether she thought all union members had the gear they needed, she was uncertain.

“I think it depends upon the day and it depends upon the facility,” she said.

And Pare added that relaxed CDC guidelines allowing for re-use of the masks is so new that, even if they're sterilized, she fears long-term, unintended consequences.

“It is going to take us years to realize the fallout of not being prepared for this pandemic,” Pare said.

“As we get into more volume and a busier time, we need to protect all the nurses. We’re not an endless supply. We will run out of them,” Miksch said.

Southcoast Health declined to let Boston 25 News interview any member of their administration. They did point us to a recent op-ed written by one of their nurses.