KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Last week Ascension Health asked nurses to volunteer to go to Detroit to help healthcare workers there fight the spread of the coronavirus, said Jamie Brown, president of the Michigan Nurses Association.
Brown said 17 nurses wanted more information and three wanted to go.
However, this week, Ascension responded by trying to mandate that five head to Detroit, she said.
“They’re asking us to walk into a hospital that we don’t know,” Brown said during a FaceTime interview with FOX 17 on Monday. “They have not guaranteed the proper PPE.”
Brown said the main PPE, or personal protection equipment, they’re asking for are N95 masks.
She said those masks ‘filter out all small airborne particles that would infect the nurses and healthcare workers.’
She added that the Center for Disease Control stated that surgical masks and bandanas are helpful as well.
However, Brown disagreed.
She said they’re OK for the general public but not appropriate for healthcare workers.
“When the nurses start getting sick there’s not going to be enough nurses to take care of the patients,” said Brown, who’s also a critical care nurse. “As we’ve seen already, we’ve had three nurses die in Michigan from COVID-19 because of the lack of personal protection equipment.”
Brown said Ascension also isn’t taking into account the nurses personal needs, like childcare and looking after loved ones.
She said MNA has tried over the last month to ‘sit down and meet’ with Ascension, which is based in St. Louis. However, their responses has been filled with ‘policies they’ve already decided on. And they will not sit down and actually discuss the terms and conditions of our jobs.’
“Their offer is they will put us up in a dormitory,” Brown said. “They’ll pay for mileage and they’ll make sure food is provided. They also offer us $2 more an hour.”
FOX 17 reached out to the Ascension offices in Michigan and in St. Louis for a comment. They replied via email:
"As our hospitals in southeast Michigan have been experiencing a surge in COVID-19 related cases, associates from across Ascension Michigan have been readily volunteering to assist their fellow caregivers as we deal with this pandemic. Compensation, housing and expenses are provided for during any relocation. Ascension Michigan has not implemented any mandatory reassignments to southeast Michigan, but as we continue to navigate providing care during this global pandemic, emergency response plans are in place for ensuring we have the resources required to provide care to all who need it."
Brown said what they feared most is the uncertainty. They’d like to sit down with the Ascension and iron out details about the possible reassignments, like making sure that nurses return ‘when the surge hits Kalamazoo.’
“Again, there’s no guarantees. They are going to be working 12-hour shifts but they could be mandated to work up to 16 hours,” Brown said. “So, we just want the chance to sit down and bargain with the hospital to do the right thing.”