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Dignity Health nurses demand more protective equipment; hospital officials say supplies are sufficient
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Dignity Health nurses demand more protective equipment; hospital officials say supplies are sufficient

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Nurses and doctors at Dignity Health Central Coast hospitals have organized recent vigils to commemorate those who have lost their lives caring for COVID-19 patients, and to demand more personal protective equipment for health-care staff.

A Thursday night vigil was held outside of French Hospital Medical Center in San Luis Obispo, and health-care staff also gathered on March 26 with other Dignity Health staff outside of Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria.

The Marian vigil on March 26 was sanctioned by the hospital’s union, the California Nurses Association, while the demonstration at French was not, Dignity Health Central Coast spokeswoman Megan Maloney said.

Shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) have been an issue at health-care facilities statewide as well as in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, causing health professionals to have to reuse single-use supplies such as N95 masks.

However, Maloney said supply shortage and reuse are not issues at Marian or French at this time.

“Both French Hospital Medical Center and Marian Regional Medical Center have the supplies and equipment to effectively protect our caregivers as they screen and treat any patients. We continuously assess the volume of supplies at our facility. We have multiple contingency plans to ensure our facility has the PPE necessary,” Maloney said.

She added that hospital staff are not restricted from demonstrating, but that further concerns should be directed to hospital management.

“They have a right. We’re not going to stop our nurses or any health-care worker from having a voice whatsoever. We’re just trying to communicate with them as much as possible, and telling them to talk to their manager,” Maloney said.

Health-care professionals on the Central Coast have expressed concerns about contracting and spreading the coronavirus without the proper protective equipment. 

This is especially troubling for some as the Centers for Disease Control released new guidelines stating that health-care staff can also use supplies such as bandanas to cover their faces in place of medical-grade masks. 

While San Luis Obispo County reported Thursday that 15 health-care workers have been confirmed positive for the virus, Santa Barbara County officials have so far declined to provide the information about health-care workers.

Public Health Department Director Van Do-Reynoso said Friday, however, that the department is preparing to release aggregate numbers of confirmed health-care worker cases in the coming days. 

Of the 152 county cases confirmed as of Friday, 26 individuals have been hospitalized, with 17 in intensive care units, Public Health Officials said. 

Donations for PPE have been organized throughout the county, with drop-off services for supplies offered outside of Goleta Valley Hospital.

The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County has also partnered with the county Public Health Department to open community PPE donation areas at county Foodbank locations.

However, according to Foodbank spokeswoman Judith Smith-Meyer, the PPE donations will not go to local hospitals or medical clinics, but to the county Emergency Operations Center for orders submitted by other emergency personnel in the community.

Laura Place covers city government for the Santa Maria Times.

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