A week after recovering from a fever, nurse Maria Gray was given a surgical mask and assigned to Research Medical Center’s ward of patients suspected of having the virus that causes COVID-19.
For two consecutive shifts, she asked hospital nurse managers for an N95 respirator mask that would offer more protection. On both shifts, supervisors denied her request and reassigned her to a different hospital floor.
On the third day, the travel nurse learned her contract to work at the Kansas City, Missouri hospital had been terminated. The staffing agency that employed her explained Gray had been “making demands that the facility believed were not in line with current policies,”
As the worst viral outbreak in a century has infected a half-million and killed more than 18,000 Americans as of Saturday, nurses on the front lines of the nation’s hospitals have reached a breaking point.
They are challenging hospital administrators over staffing concerns and the availability of equipment such as masks, gowns and gloves to protect them and their patients. While hospitals seek to stretch limited supplies by requiring nurses and health workers reuse masks and gowns normally discarded after a single use, nurse unions say such stopgap measures put health-care workers and patients at risk.