St. John's nurses protested the suspension of 10 of their colleagues who refused to enter patients' rooms without N95 masks. (Madeleine Pauker)

Ten nurses who were put on administrative leave after protesting a lack of personal protective equipment are back at work this week.

But the nurses feel the hospital has unfairly disciplined them and still feel unsafe at work because they are only being given one N95 mask per shift.

For more than a month, nurses in the COVID-19 unit of Providence St. John’s Health Center demanded N95 respirators, which offer a higher level of protection than the surgical masks the hospital had given them. Ten nurses who refused to enter coronavirus patients’ rooms without N95 masks were put on administrative leave between April 10 and 12.

The nurses who were reinstated last week said they received a written warning for insubordination and failure to follow a direct order.

Allison Mayol, a nurse in the COVID-19 unit who was reinstated last week, said she feels that nurses should not be disciplined or punished for advocating for their safety and that of their patients.

“Our job is not to blindly follow orders. We’re taught to question everything, constantly reassess a situation and do what we think is best,” she said. “I shouldn’t be scared or intimidated into avoiding standing up for the safety of my patients and myself.”

Mayol said she feels safer going to work now that St. John’s is providing nurses with one N95 mask per shift, rather than a surgical mask. The hospital is disinfecting masks using an on-site system that recently obtained U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

In an ideal situation, Mayol said nurses should change their N95 mask after entering a patient’s room to avoid infecting themselves and other patients. She also has concerns about whether the disinfection system the hospital is using could contaminate the masks with chemicals, and whether masks that have been worn before will fit properly.

“The best practice would really be a single-use N95,” she said.

Mayol said she still wants the hospital to be transparent about how much PPE is available and include nurses in the administration’s COVID-19 task force. Hospital management previously told nurses that they had a supply of N95 masks but declined to confirm how many masks were in the stockpile.

“Every day, administration makes decisions that directly affect us, but we don’t get to be part of that conversation,” Mayol said.

St. John’s has received more than 1,000 N95 masks donated by members of the public and other hospitals, but a donation of 13,000 KN95 masks from the Lakers never shipped from China, said Liz Wade, a labor and delivery nurse at St. John’s.

Nurses said they plan to hold another car caravan protest Tuesday afternoon to continue to call for St. John’s to provide hotel rooms for staff working with COVID-19 patients.

The effort has been led by Adam Smith, the husband of a St. John’s nurse, who earlier this month circulated a petition asking the hospital to provide hotel rooms for staff who wish to isolate themselves from their households that has amassed more than 1,300 signatures.

In the petition, Smith said St. John’s would follow UCLA, USC and other health systems in Los Angeles County in securing hotel rooms for staff working with cororonavirus patients. He said the hospital could help nurses access a program Gov. Gavin Newsom created to provide front-line workers with free or discounted hotel rooms.

“(St. John’s) has been working to provide showers and changing stations for folks coming off their shift, and that is appreciated, but our healthcare workers should have access to lodging between shifts to mitigate the risk of spread to families and other high-risk loved ones who aren’t able to properly isolate when they get home to a small apartment or house,” he wrote in the petition.

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  1. These nurses should not be disciplined for insubordination or anything else! They did what they were taught to do with infectious disease patients. Too bad their supervisors didn’t have to replace them at the bedside. Would they have gone without a N95? Bet not! Nurses being taken advantage of by Providence Health Systems who preach so much about Core Values!

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