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'How Many More Nurses Have to Die?': Coalition of Nurses Unions Demand Life-Saving Supplies in Battle With Coronavirus

"We now bear the full brunt of a healthcare system rendered dysfunctional after years of relentless funding cuts for public health, while generating obscene profits for corporate interests."

New York City nurses and health workers gather at a 'COVID-19 Frontline Health Worker Action' event on April 6, 2020 in New York City to demand safer working conditions, more personal protective equipment (PPE) and free virus testing during the COVID-19 outbreak. (Photo by Giles Clarke/Getty Images)

New York City nurses and health workers gather at a 'COVID-19 Frontline Health Worker Action' event on April 6, 2020 in New York City to demand safer working conditions, more personal protective equipment (PPE) and free virus testing during the COVID-19 outbreak. (Photo:Giles Clarke/Getty Images)

A coalition of nurses' unions on Monday demanded their members be protected in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak threatening to overwhelm the U.S. healthcare system, describing a dysfunctional approach to the pandemic that is putting frontline healthcare workers' lives in danger.

"What nurses see is every hospital operating in haphazard fashion," said Rose Roach, executive director of the Minnesota Nurses Association, in a statement. "No hospital is using the same protocols. No hospital is maintaining the same procedures. They operate differently, day to day, and even shift to shift."

The coronavirus, or COVID-19, global pandemic has already hit the U.S. healthcare system with a fury—exposing insufficient levels of personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers—and the peak of hospitalizations around the nation is not expected for another week or more.

"Instead of answering the demands nurses have been making for months to their employers and elected officials to ensure safe workplaces to protect themselves, their patients, and the public, hospitals have instead sent nurses to the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic with bandanas, scarves, and trash bags as protection," said Bonnie Castillo, executive director of National Nurses United (NNU).

NNU and the Minnesota Nurses Association are joined in the demand by the D.C. Nurses Association, the National Nurses Organizing Committee, the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), and the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP). 

"The health of our communities and the lives of our families, friends, and neighbors depends on how we protect frontline nurses and healthcare workers right now," said MNA president Donna Kelly-Williams.

As Common Dreams has reported, nurses and other frontline healthcare workers have for over a month raised the alarm over the lack of access to PPE for staff and have demanded a change in how they are treated in hospitals and other healthcare facilities as they confront the coronavirus. The blame for the lack of access, said NYSNA president Judy Sheridan-González, rests squarely on a system that operates for profit, not human life and health.

"We now bear the full brunt of a healthcare system rendered dysfunctional after years of relentless funding cuts for public health, while generating obscene profits for corporate interests," said Sheridan-González. "Life-protecting, life-saving equipment should have been assembled, trained practitioners should have been mobilized en masse, infrastructure should have been up and running, arming us with the tools to confront the most devastating crisis of our lifetime."

The coalition stressed that time is slipping away to change the tide but that there was still an opportunity for the federal government to step in and ensure standard practices are followed.

"Inaction has put us and our families at risk" said PASNAP president Maureen May. "Congress and the White House must act now and use the Defense Production Act to get personal protective equipment into our hospitals without further delay."

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