Michigan Medicine health care workers hold rally to demand more national support

Wednesday, April 15, 2020 - 8:49pm

 

Approximately 20 health care workers gathered in front of the University of Michigan Hospital on Wednesday night as part of a national rally to demand support for hospital staff. They were joined by about 50 other supporters driving by with posters and signs. 

The rally was publicized on Facebook as “National Healthcare Workers Day of Action at U of M.” The organizers asked attendees to remain six feet apart and circulated a list of demands. Similar rallies were held throughout the country. 

The demands included that hospitals provide health care workers with adequate personal protective equipment, establish minimum mandatory staffing levels, implement an increase in training for provided care to highly infectious patients and provide childcare for health care workers, among other things. 

The event’s description included a list of demands, urging federal and state governments to cooperate to ensure supplies are sent where they are most needed, rather than to those who can pay the most. 

“We need coordination of resources, not competition. Hospital systems and states should not be in competition with one another for supplies,” the post said. “Nobody should be afraid of not getting the care they need because of where they live or because their hospital is not at the front of the line for ventilators. We need a system for distributing PPE (personal protective equipment) and other supplies based on need rather than who has the deepest pockets or favorable political connections.” 

Anne Jackson, a registered nurse at Michigan Medicine, helped organize the rally. She said the hospital does not have adequate protective equipment and commented on the nationwide shortage and lack of preparation. 

“(Michigan Medicine) is doing a better job than most,” Jackson said. “But we’re also cleaning and reusing the N95s, which is not how this is supposed to go. And the problem is that they’re trying to conserve supplies so we don’t run out. I get that. But this is the bigger issue ... this is a colossal failure on our nation’s part. We depleted the pandemic supplies in 2009. We did not get ready when we knew this was coming.”

The rally comes a week after more than 100 Michigan Medicine employees tested positive for COVID-19, while others have been unable to get tested at all. 

Michigan Medicine spokeswoman Mary Masson commented on personal protective equipment supplies and why health care workers are not allowed to bring their own protective gear from home, citing requirements from the Food and Drug Administration and a warning from the FBI. 

“At this time, Michigan Medicine has the resources we need to provide care for every patient and keep our healthcare personnel and our team members safe,” Masson wrote in an email to The Daily. “Because we cannot guarantee PPE (personal protective equipment) acquired elsewhere is clean, properly fitted and meets FDA requirements, Michigan Medicine will not permit our team members to use masks brought from home in our facilities. A contributing factor to our decision is the FBI’s warning, issued March 27, regarding fraudulent sales of PPE that actually may put healthcare workers at risk rather than keep them safe.” 

Earlier this week, Michigan Medicine received 22,000 masks from the federal government, but they were deemed unusable and removed from inventory. 

Jackson said she believes Michigan Medicine leadership are working hard to protect their staff, but companies trying to make a profit on selling supplies are a problem. She also referenced the need for coordination between states and the federal government, saying the lack of equipment is putting health care workers in danger.

“The way that it’s being done right now, everybody is trying to make sure they get a profit off of it,” Jackson said. “No, it just needs to get fixed now so that we don’t lose more health care workers. We are not unlimited, we are in limited supply. Especially our ICU (intensive care unit) nurses and our ICU doctors, but also all the supporting cast members within the hospital are at risk.” 

Masson said staff can donate supplies, assuming they go through the proper safety procedures. 

“Before any equipment, PPE (personal protective equipment) or otherwise, is deployed to our team members it is subject to thorough inspection by our Supply Chain team, who is working tirelessly to accept new shipments and donations, assess for FDA regulations, and get quality product into our hospitals,” Masson wrote. “We would be happy to partner with any staff who say they have a source of N95 masks. We only require that those masks be subject to the same review by our Supply Chain team as every other piece of equipment in our facilities to ensure safety.” 

Masson reiterated the University Hospital’s appreciation for health care workers during this time and said they will continue to meet regularly with the nurses’ union. 

Jackson commented on the similar conditions in New York health care facilities, expressing the need for a change. 

“Yeah, the system is broken,” Jackson said. “We need national health care sooner rather than later.”

Reporter Emma Ruberg can be reached at eruberg@umich.edu.