UCSF health care workers demand more personal protective equipment

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Health care workers at UCSF held a day of action Friday to honor COVID-19 health care workers, as well as to demand increased personal protective equipment, or PPE, and testing from the UC system.

The day of action was supported by local labor unions, including the California Nurses Association, Teamsters Local 2010 and University Professional and Technical Employees, Communications Workers of America 9119.

According to a statement from UCSF, the school has taken extensive precautions based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from state and county departments of public health to prevent the spread of COVID-19. These measures include testing all hospital patients for the disease, instituting a universal mask policy, restricting visitors to UCSF’s care facilities and providing PPE, including N95 masks, face shields and surgical gowns.

“This multi-pronged strategy allows us to ensure that we can deliver on our commitment to patients throughout this epidemic, while also prioritizing the safety of our health care providers, staff and other patients,” the statement reads.

Sheila Antrum, senior vice president and chief operating officer at UCSF Health, added in the statement that in some categories of PPE, UCSF has enough supplies to be able to share with other hospitals.

UCSF nurses in the California Nurses Association, however, have taken issue with the campus’s response to the pandemic. Jamille Cabacungan, a registered nurse at UCSF Medical Center, alleged that the CDC guidelines, which guide UCSF’s response, are too weak.

Cabacungan said there has been a shortage of N95 masks at the medical center. She added that though the CDC guidelines allow the use of surgical masks in the absence of N95 masks, the nurses’ union believes this is not enough.

“The nurse’s union supports the precautionary route,” Cabacungan said. “This is a novel pathogen, we have no clue how it fully transmits. There’s a lot of unknowns. We should take the highest precaution.”

Cabacungan added that UCSF is rationing N95 masks and instead allowing the use of contact masks. These masks, however, offer less protection, which is a cause for concern among nurses. According to UCSF’s statement, it is conserving N95 masks through reuse due to uncertainty regarding the nation’s supply of N95 masks.

While UCSF has now enacted a universal mask policy, its implementation was in part a result of demands from nurses, according to Cabacungan. She alleged that before the policy, nurses who wanted to wear masks were told to take them off to prevent exacerbating anxiety among staff.

“This is all essentially a team effort in battling COVID-19,” Cabacungan said. “If we keep our staff safe, we keep patients and the community safe.”

Contact Blake Evans at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @Blake_J_Evans.