Local Nurse at UMC Shares Troubling Conditions During Covid-19 Pandemic


(Note: Out of respect for the author’s privacy, the author requested to use a pseudonym byline. The author is a Nurse and the content of the Op-Ed is 100 percent accurate. Updated as of March 27, 2020 at 2:08pm to include Publisher’s note.)

I am a Registered Nurse at University Medical Center in New Orleans. I work on a 32-bed unit that now treats exclusively patients with Covid-19. Almost every day I work there is a code blue or an actual death on our unit. Most of our patients are stabilized with a little extra oxygen, some have even been discharged to home quarantine, but when they go down, they go down fast.

Last shift I came in and there were no N95 masks in my size.
Dear readers, let me explain the difference between an N95 respirator and regular surgical mask: N95 respirators are made of a special material that filters particles from the air. They come in several sizes, and each healthcare worker is “fit-tested” to ensure that the mask forms a complete seal to the wearer’s face. Getting fit-tested is weird. You mask up, and stick your head into a big cylindrical hood, which is then filled with a saccharine smog. When the mask fits properly, you taste nothing, absolutely everything is filtered out. If there’s even a small gap in your N95, you’re hit with an overpowering mixture of bitter and sickly-sweet. (This is why the general public should not use them, you have not been fit tested, so you’re probably wearing the wrong size, and you’re going to keep touching your face, so they won’t work anyway.) In contrast, a surgical mask is a napkin hung from the ears with rubber bands. The World Health Organization has stated unequivocally that N95 masks are needed to protect healthcare workers from Covid-19.

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Before, we had come to work to find shortages of these respirators and had to figure out how to stretch them. In the course of use, virus-containing droplets are trapped on the outside of the respirator, which is then carefully removed and thrown away after each visit to a patient room, under normal conditions. Other hospitals gave their workers instructions on how to re-use their N95s, by layering them with surgical masks, storing them in paper bags, specifying the number of times they were to be reused. For us there has been no guidance about anything; we have been on our own. Over the course of a few days, individual nurses had combed the websites of the CDC and WHO looking for information on how to protect ourselves, and taken advice from our colleagues at other hospitals with functional leadership. There are wildly different standards of isolation for Covid patients on the different UMC floors and units, underscoring the fact that there is no central leadership.

And then I came to work to find the signs abruptly changed, the bold tricolor announcing AIRBORNE PRECAUTIONS removed from the doors, with no further explanation, despite all scientific evidence that this is required. Doctors still wear N95 respirators to even walk down the hallways of our unit, but UMC tells us nurses are not worth the money to protect. Many of these MDs stand outside of closed hospital room doors and speak to their patients over the phone, asking the nurse to make all physical assessments. Two of our nurses are already out sick with Covid-19 symptoms. For the rest of us it is only a matter of time.

The situation is even worse for other hospital workers. New Orleanians making $12/hr must transport Covid-19 patients and clean their rooms wearing only flimsy paper droplet masks, without protective gowns or face shields. They receive no extra pay for the risks they are taking, no instructions on how to avoid passing the illness to their families.

Considering these risks, it has become hard to keep our unit fully staffed. The first week, many pool nurses signed up to take shifts on our unit. They wanted to help out in this time of need. But with inadequate equipment and no extra pay, who can blame people for wanting to work somewhere else?

Last night, we had to make do with one nurse for every six patients. We do not have enough staff to monitor these patients as closely as they should be monitored. LCMC could take a lesson from Seattle, which has also been hard-hit by Covid-19. Seattle hospitals are recruiting nurses from all over the country, offering RNs over $4k a week to maintain their 4:1 nursing ratios in the face of crisis.

Our hospital is of course billing the government for all the care we provide. UMC is a public-private partnership, it has a contract that any services not reimbursed by patient insurance will be covered by the federal government. These funds are not being passed on to staff. Our unit director has been doing his best to advocate for us in receiving hazard pay, but his superiors don’t even dignify us with a response. There was a petition circulated among nursing staff for increased pay during this time, to support our quarantined families and attract adequate staff; the response for our unit was a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts and cold pizza.

From conversations with our nurse colleagues at other hospitals, we at UMC seem to have less and lower-quality protective equipment and worse nurse-patient ratios than those with wealthier and whiter patient populations. This recalls the situation after Katrina, when patients at LSU hospital were airlifted to safety, while the largely black and low-income patients of Charity Hospital were left to die. We need intervention now to make sure that history does not repeat itself.

The upper administration of LCMC is sitting safely at home. They are keeping 100% of the profits from this crisis for themselves, while leaving 100% of the risk for nurses and frontline staff. If CEO Greg Feirn continues to maximize profit above all, we will not have enough healthy staff to care for our patients, and many more people will die.

New Orleans nurses have no union, no seat at the corporate table. We will do anything to avoid abandoning our patients, but we can’t keep going on like this. We need your advocacy. We need political action. We need the public to pressure UMC into doing the right thing. We need City Hall to CEO Greg Feirn, and we need ordinary citizens to picket outside his house, and force him to release the funds for hazard pay, protective equipment, and full staffing for all of us on the front lines. Our lives depend on it.

 

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54 thoughts on “Local Nurse at UMC Shares Troubling Conditions During Covid-19 Pandemic

  1. Wow….this article couldn’t be more accurate 💔 I’m a nurse at UMC as well and the fear of not having your fitted N95 mask happens everyday. These conditions are unsafe, and the leadership of this institution walk around and spread false hope while delivering cold donuts; not proper or an adequate amount of PPE. We have contaminated film gowns hanging outside of patients rooms to wipe down and reuse. I’ve never cried so much at the end of shifts. We as nurses are left on the front lines expected to fight this COVID 19 war with guns pointed at us and no real ammo to fight back….therefore we’re losing.

  2. I definitely understand and feel your pain. I’m an RN and remember the days during unexpected severe weather and flooding in New Orleans when I could not leave because nurses on the next shift could not get to work. Most people have no idea how hard it is to be in your feet tired, hungry, sleepy, etc. We did not lose a single patient but, no patient had a deadly virus. Yes you all need more than 5K a week. Shame on those who think pizza and donuts can suffice! My prayers are with yall!

    1. It’s about the same at MHC in Jackson, MS. I’m an RN there and they’re telling us N95 masks are merely suggested and we don’t REALLY have to have them since the CDC says it’s ok since there’s a shortage. We literally have to sign 1 mask out per shift for each nurse that has presumptive positive patients on our unit.

  3. Everyone in the entire hospital deserves hazard pay or pay increase during this crisis. Radiology is front line too. They have X-rayed and scanned these patients even before they were diagnosed.They are short staffed, tired and severely stressed just like everyone else. The employees there NEED HELP EVERYDAY!. Why can’t they get the help they need? Are they not important enough?! They work at a level 1 hospital! THEIR LIVES DEPEND ON IT!

    1. It seems that what you hard working
      Caregivers need , along with the 12.00
      Per hour folks is a 1- new leadership including the board of directors. Or 2- to
      Go to work at a hospital that takes care
      Of their employees all of them not just
      Their cronies and the doctors. Just had
      To vent. God bless all of you.

      1. Why do you vilify the doctors. They are on the frontlines too. They are NOT getting hazard pay. They leave The safety of their homes and families to take care of all of us every day. When you show up in the ER short of breath who do you think it’s going to see you? Doctors and nurses. Don’t Vilify the doctors. Otherwise, there won’t be one there waiting for you with arms open.

  4. You are righteous and brave, Emma! Thank you for risking your life for our community. Thank you for having the courage to stand up for your patients and your coworkers when Louisiana employers are known to retaliate the prevailing sentiment among workers is to shrug and only look out for themselves in the short-term.
    LOUSIANA NEEDS A NURSES UNION NOW
    Its time we all join http://www.nationalnursesunited.org and ask them to assist us. Ochsner and LCMC tell us right to our faces their top motivation is money – they’re about as non-profit as the NFL. We will never be treated as well as nurses in California or Massachusetts (and neither will the patients!) unless we organize.
    In the meantime, I hope yall get the PPE and leadership you need. Stay safe, stay sane.
    Thank you, Emma. Thank you, Emma.

  5. I know what y’all are coming from, I worked at Charity and UH. I left before the big jump to UMC,due to lack or limited supplies of equipment and working machines. I will pass this on on SM. I hope y’all get what is needed. Thank you for what y’all do.

    Rhonda Lowenhaupt,RT

  6. Facts: I am sorry this is what you have to deal with. And that comment above 🙄 honey he can go anywhere and work. He is A NURSE. But he chose to stay and take care of the people in New Orleans. Be grateful.

  7. I’m a retired respiratory therapist. I can only imagine what healthcare professionals are going through. I sympathize but that doesn’t help does it. Remember one thing…self protection is necessary with protective gear and abstinence of care without protective gear. Refuse patient and notify administration of lack of gear each and everytime it happens also document in patient’s chart your actions and if it was resolved. You must prote t yourself physically and professionally by making administrative fat cat pencil pushers take responsibility for patient care and demise. God speed and stay safe and well

  8. Who do we have to contact?? Does anyone know this is a disgrace! How dare they treat not just people but nurses who are putting their own and families lives in danger to be treated like second class citizens! Shame on you UMC!!! Once again New Orleans like living in a third world country within the United States ! Do not let these fat cats in charge at UMC get away with this!

  9. I am so sorry. I am a Retired RN and worked Critical Care most of my career. I can remember the days during a hurricane or other disaster how crazy things could be. Yet, never in a time like Nurses are facing in this time. I even know the real isolation rooms were limited. Not all the ICU beds were set up for true isolation. My prayers are with all those on the front lines of this Virus. Including the poor Housekeepers who needs protection too. 🙏.

  10. Hello,
    I am a Nurse Practitioner who’s making mask. I’m making cotton mask, lining them with hepa filters; that can add protection and can be washed. I can mail you some mask for the staff. You can reach out to me to make the arrangements. Praying for everyone! 🙏🏾

  11. it’s so sad you nurses have to face these challenges & feeling alone. You don’t want to bring it home. PPE’s are important. I worked in the field as a CNA for 35 years.Worked @ Charity Hospital also. This situation is bad & overwhlemping. I pray you get the help you, remember God is in control, He will never leave are forsake you. Please take care of yourself first.

    1. Please reach out to Congessman Cedric Richmond. He will be an advocate for you. He is a good and he loves the people of his city. He will fight for you. I promise if he speak you will get some results. God bless you all and I will keep all healthcare worker and their families in prayer.

  12. This is horrible to hear about. How dare someone send donuts and a pizza!
    I spent a few weeks in UMC after emergency heart bypass surgery. I had multiple complications and cheated death more than once. The nursing staff, with only 1 or 2 exceptions, treated me with kid gloves and definitely made my recovery possible. I am horrified that they are being treated in such a cavalier manner.

  13. My fellow colleagues, I feel your pain as a Hospice RN being out in the New Orleans admitting patients who had returned to the area. I got sick going to Chalmette around Murphy Oil had spilled into the streets. I became ill and was out of work for 3 month, was hospitalized at East Jefferson hospital for 12 days with a WBC of 21.5. God is still on his throne and will see you all through this pandemic. You all are in my prayers 🙏🙏🙏

    1. Shame on you! I highly doubt the nursing staff were out partying on St. Patrick’s Day. I am 100% positive you have people ignoring home Quarantine and social distancing where you live and work. We are all in this together! We learned this during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009.

      OBTW: they aren’t “your area’s supplies” they belong to the medical community that you claim you are allegedly a member. Which means they can and will be re-distributed as needed.

    2. David, You should be ashamed. Please do not be a part of the problem, find a new career. Clearly you don’t belong in healthcare.

  14. Hurts to see a UMC nurse throw stones at us UMC physicians, who are mostly residents that make less at $50k annually than any full time RN working at UMC.

    Any employee can call the PPE hotline at UMC and receive an N95 mask through the pressurized tube system. I did it this morning and nobody on the other end asked whether I was a transporter, EKG tech, respiratory therapist, chaplain, nurse, or physician. While I think your article does accurately represent the PPE situation as of last week, leadership is on top of it and I wore appropriate PPE all day today to see all 20 of my patients.

    Yes, we’re calling patients from outside rooms to preserve PPE. I apologize if our attempts to glean as much information as we can to care about our patients in an effort to limit PPE has offended you. Staff physicians, many of whom have kids at home as well, see each patient every day.

    I worked more than 90+ hours last week at UMC, worked multiple 28 hour shifts, took care of ~20 patients each day, and didn’t expect to get lavish bonuses for any of it. I actually would have appreciated some cold donuts and pizza at the two in the morning when I was handling your rapid responses. We residents have been aggressively organizing and lobbying city, state, and national powers to increase our supplies of PPE. And it’s paying off.

    Thank you nurses, sincerely, for the work you do every day. We physicians are on the same team as you. Although it’s tempting, these issues can’t be taken out of political-economic context and be placed squarely and solely on a CEO, though. These issues are larger and more structural than our own beautiful structure on Canal Street. Unhappy that you’re not in a union? Unionize. Unhappy that Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements are underfunded? Show up to vote next November. Unhappy that black patients receive worse health care in America? Show up to vote next November and all other local elections. And please do keep sounding the siren and keep advocating for yourselves. But please, I implore you, don’t take it out on your fellow healthcare workers.

    1. Why do you vilify the doctors. They are on the frontlines too. They are NOT getting hazard pay. They leave The safety of their homes and families to take care of all of us every day. When you show up in the ER short of breath who do you think it’s going to see you? Doctors and nurses. Don’t Vilify the doctors. Otherwise, there won’t be one there waiting for you with arms open.

    2. Why do they vilify the doctors. They are on the frontlines too. They are NOT getting hazard pay. They leave The safety of their homes and families to take care of all of us every day. When you show up in the ER short of breath who do you think it’s going to see you? Doctors and nurses. Don’t Vilify the doctors. Otherwise, there won’t be one there waiting for you with arms open.

    3. I couldn’t agree more? Why vilify the doctors? All of the first line providers should be protected and appropriately paid including doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, radiology, ER, house keeping, cafeteria, etc. Not just the nurses. The doctors don’t get to leave after 12 hours and all of them work more than 40 hours a week. In fact, most of them work at least 80 hours a week. We are all in this together doing the best we can to take care of patients so there is no need to throw other health care providers under the bus for no reason.

  15. Over St. Patrick’s Day weekend the Nation watched as the idiots of New Orleans ignored their own Mayor”s request to social distance themselves. They partied. Now you are paying the price. As a health care provider myself, I say screw you and go ask your own community members to make sacrifices nit mine.

    1. Well, as a resident of New Orleans, I say FUCK YOU bc that crowd you on St. Patrick’s Day was a trickle of what would’ve normally been seen that day bc most of us did stay home and away from others. Those who didn’t were from the same age group seen on the beaches in Florida for Spring Break. Some of the people interviewed on the street for St. Pat’s weren’t even from NOLA, but were out of town visitors. So, Fuck you again for jumping to the wrong conclusion about everyone who lives here. And, third and finally, who the fuck asked you to come here to work in the local hospital? I think I can speak for every NOLA citizen when I say, “keep the fuck away from this city bc we don’t want cold-hearted, presumptive assholes coming here. 🖕🖕🖕

    2. Wow, David. Not helpful. You sound like a small-minded and fearful individual. Whatever made you that way, I’m sorry for you.

    3. Agree with Danielle, David your a jack***. Shame on whatever Mickey Mouse operation decided to employ you. Do everyone a favor David quit your job now because you clearly don’t have a soul.8

  16. This is COMPLETELY unacceptable!! Making profits during a pandemic on the backs of health care workers is despicable and unconscionable, and should NOT be tolerated!! Without healthy and protected health care workers, everyone is at a higher risk of contracting and dying from this novel coronavirus. We must protect our nurses and healthcare workers, above anyone else.

  17. This makes my heart hurt on so many levels. I too am a retired nurse who worked at Charity during tough times. But I never had to endure a pandemic. These executives are not looking out for the employees. But they will get their bonuses. I am praying for all of the caregivers. Patients and families (and executives} will never understand the sacrifices that you are making. If I could, i would join the protest. It will be interesting to see the response to your straightforward and honest article.

  18. My daughter is on staff at UMC and has repeated your views a number of times to wooden eared higharchy. While CEOs sit in their protected environments y’all are on the front line and risk more with being in direct contact with patients than they care about. The government will be helping financially and it should have allocated portions to the staff keeping the doors open and keeping people safe. Sad that politics is everywhere at such a time of need. Hope you and your family stay well.

    1. Oh yea, going to those sites are really going to get an IMMEDIATE response that clearly these nurses need. Cassandra you either have a seat and don’t give a damn or you’re just plain ignorant. Support this article and the healthcare workers being exposed. Don’t give them some useless link that won’t do a damn thing right now

  19. Someone needs to send this to the Governor and demand change and some leadership immediately. You all are risking your lives and the family you go home to. What will they do when you all walk out? Especially during this. Don’t continue to work without the proper supplies you need. You are just as important. Praying for all of you!

  20. I’d like to see investigative journalism expand upon this article. Referring to hospital management as hospital management instead of seeing their names in black and white is rather a vanilla treatment of quasi criminals. We would all be interested in their replies to your request for interviews. Please have some pointed questions ready.

  21. While I am deeply saddened by the lack of equipment provided to the nurses in this crisis and thankful for their service I disagree with a statement made about Charity Hospital and Katrina. No one was left to die, black or white, I was there for the hurricane and several days following. There was only one death, an elderly white woman with brain cancer that was on her death bed before the storm.

  22. As an RN no longer practicing in the NO area. I feel you. I can only say be safe and protect yourself and your license. Fat cat CEOs are the nature of the business. They sit in their ivory tower safe and sound while staff does the dirty work. They get million dollar pay checks while the rest of us take the risk. ER docs are on the front line but the rest of them are as pampered as the CEOs. Those of us who do the job are the ones who know who the life savers are. At 3am when a patient crashes, where is their doc? Usually safe at home in bed. Its the ER doc and nurses who are working the covid related code. I can only say this. I am so honored to have worked beside you for so many years. My friends still on the front line and dedicated to what you do. I recall what one of my instructors said, “you do the job till you become competent, it takes a while, then one day you wake up and realize wow I’m a nurse”, and it stays with you for the rest of your life. Once a nurse, always a nurse. Thank you all for your dedication and the work you do in the face of crisis. Katrina was rough, but I’m sure this is worse! You are the best among us. Stay safe and may God bless and watch over you.

  23. Nurse conditions are bad everywhere due to shortages of nursing staff and PPE.. You are using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to complain about racism. For you to suggest UMC doesn’t have proper supplies due to being a public hospital that tends to black people is pure stupidity. it on racism. Nobody has PPE- Black, White, Chinese, etc,

  24. I’m an RN in Nashville working ED. My thoughts are with you as we get told the same crap about droplet vs airborne. This needs to be the wake up call to organize. Prior to COVID our worries were mounting..unsafe patient ratios, lack of education, and lack of cost of living raises. Now of health is on the line. Be well. We will get through this and then it’s time to march.

  25. File a lawsuit against the hospital and CEO, in his official capacity and any other person regulating a hospital that is not providing PPE.

    1. I agree with the nurses but enough credit is NEVER GIVEN 2those who are in cooking, housekeeping, etc…They need protection as well. And credit and thx!

  26. My Dad used to work at UMC as a lab technician before he left last year. Even though he wasn’t directly involved with the patients, he also described a lack of transparency and communication among higher-level superiors.

    My heart is definitely with all of the nurses and healthcare workers at UMC battling Covid-19. You guys definitely deserve way better than this! UMC needs to wake up!

  27. Please add my name to any petition that will get every nurse and related medical team members what they need. LCMC is a great medical source with fabulous people who deserve to be treated extremely well. Release the funds!!!!!!!!!!!!

  28. Release the funds!!!!!!!!! Add my name to any petition to the powers that be of LCMC which has the most wonderful Doctors, nurses, techs and related helpers – I know because I just completed cancer treatment at LCMC. These people deserve the pay and the protective and medical gear that they need. Give it to them!!!!

  29. Please lighten up on David. He has a right to what is on his mind and heart. Really…profanity…get real and be the professional you claim to be.

  30. Let’s not forget EMS workers! Everyone in healthcare needs extra pay right now. While they sacrifice their health and their families health to help others.

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