Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Nurses and supporters participate in a vigil at UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center, during a shift change for nurses, amid the global coronavirus pandemic on March 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

'When We Are Infected No One Is Safe': Nurses Nationwide Protest Over Lack of Coronavirus Protective Equipment

"For the wealthiest hospital corporation in the United States to show such disregard for the health and safety of its caregivers, is disgraceful and unconscionable."

Julia Conley

Nurses at 15 hospitals across the country are set to stage protests both Wednesday and Thursday over what they say is a dangerous lack of protections for healthcare workers and demanding their employers provide respirators, gowns, gloves, and other protective equipment to help them safely fight the coronavirus pandemic.

"When we are infected, we become a real danger of infecting everyone else around us, patients, hospital staff, and a risk to our own families."
—Kim Smith, registered nurse

National Nurses United (NNU) helped organize the protests at hospitals run by HCA Healthcare, the country's largest and wealthiest for-profit hospital operator, in seven states. The union represents 10,000 nurses at HCA hospitals, which the union says has left its nurses even less prepared for the pandemic than healthcare providers at most other facilities in the nation.

The union posted a video on social media of nurses detailing their harrowing experiences from the past several weeks as the outbreak has spread to every state in the U.S., killing more than 3,900 people so far.

"PPE, or personal protective equipment, is virtually non-existent at my hospital," one nurse in Oakland, California, said.

"I had a patient who was having respiratory issues and was not able to get a respiratory treatment because the respiratory therapist did not have the proper mask," said another who works in Auburn, California.

"Listen to—and protect—nurses. All our lives are on the line." 
—Bonnie Castillo, NNU

Despite making $23 billion in profits in the last decade, NNU said in a statement, HCA Healthcare nurses in states including California, Florida, and Texas have fewer N95 respirators and other equipment to keep them from contracting the new coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, than healthcare providers at other hospitals.

Just 7% of nurses at HCA Healthcare facilities say they have enough PPE to protect staff and patients if there is a surge in coronavirus patients in their hospital, compared with 19% of nurses in general.

Only 35% of nurses in the HCA network report having access to N95 respirators, compared with 52% of nurses nationwide.

"For the wealthiest hospital corporation in the United States to show such disregard for the health and safety of its caregivers, is disgraceful and unconscionable," said Jean Ross, president of NNU.

"Nurses at various HCA hospitals are reporting that they have had to work without proper protective equipment," Ross added. "Nurses say they are not informed when they are exposed to an infected patient. They are told to unsafely reuse masks and at one hospital they are even being told not to wear masks because it 'scared the patients.'"

One hospital in Florida delayed informing nurses that they had potentially been exposed to the coronavirus, while nurses at Corpus Christi Medical Center in Corpus Christi, Texas say they were told to report to work while waiting for the results of COVID-19 testing, potentially exposing others.

Calling nurses "canaries in the coal mine" in an op-ed published Wednesday at Common Dreams, registered nurse Amy Silverman raised similar concerns, denouncing the lack of transparency at hospitals across the country regarding the exposure of healthcare providers:

You deserve to know the truth: healthcare workers are falling ill by the thousands, some are dying, an unknown number are in critical condition, and there are no tests. Hospitals aren't testing their workers unless they have obvious symptoms, but we all know that sources of infection aren't limited to those of us who seek care in emergency rooms. Hospitals should be testing all of their workers in order to understand how to control infection within their facility—and the White House regularly broadcasts support of this strategy by relaying the message that "everyone who needs a test will get a test" yet the opposite is happening: we are spreading the virus throughout our healthcare systems, within our families and communities. 

HCA Healthcare nurses stressed that allowing them to fall ill due to a lack of protective equipment will put many others in danger.

"When we are infected no one is safe," said Kim Smith, an intensive care nurse in Corpus Christi. "When we are infected, we become a real danger of infecting everyone else around us, patients, hospital staff, and a risk to our own families."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Colin Powell, Who Helped George W. Bush Lie Nation Into Iraq War, Dead at 84

"It's crucial to remember just how important Colin Powell was to selling the Iraq War, and how deliberately he used his public credibility to boost the lies that pushed us into the war. That is his biggest legacy."

Jon Queally ·


'Indefensible': US Billionaires Became $2.1 Trillion Richer in 19 Months of Pandemic

New analysis shows that just 745 individuals have combined $5 trillion in wealth—most of which will never be taxed—as nations reels from pain inflicted by Covid-19.

Jon Queally ·


Coalition Urges Biden to Make 'Transformative Change' in Approach to Global Food and Agriculture

"This pro-corporate agriculture agenda must change under your watch."

Andrea Germanos ·


Mondaire Jones Warns Against Watering Down Human Infrastructure Proposals

The New York Democrat is advocating universal programs, not means-tested ones, for programs in the Build Back Better plan.

Andrea Germanos ·


Manchin Threatening Key Climate Provision: Reports

"To take it out is to decide that climate change isn't a problem."

Andrea Germanos ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo