MUSKEGON, Mich. — Over the weekend, administrators at Hackley campus of Mercy Health Partners told registered nurses they could not use donated N95 masks amid a lack of protective gear during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic.
Tom Goodman, an emergency department registered nurse, said he was told he could not use an unused donated mask.
“It’s outrageous that a hospital doesn’t have enough proper masks to protect us and yet it tells us not to use our own,” Goodman said. “Nurses are putting our health and safety on the line every day during this pandemic, and it’s not OK to deny us the protection we need. If we can’t use the donated masks, what is the point?”
Goodman said he and other nurses were wearing donated N95 masks, donated by other unions and community members, to protect themselves against the deadly novel coronavirus.
Even if N95 respirator masks aren't fit tested, they're more effective than using an inferior surgical (paper) mask, which do not filter out particles of the coronavirus.
The Michigan Nurses Association, the largest union for RNs across the state, filed a complaint with the Michigan Occupational Safety & Health Administration over the hospital's decision to tell the nurses they could not use their own protective masks, even though they were not given ones that provided the same level of protection.
The complaint was based on actions taken at the Hackley Campus of Mercy Health Partners.
The Michigan Occupational Safety & Health Administration was expected to investigate the complaint.
An unfair labor practice charge also was filed by the Michigan Nurses Association to the National Labor Relations Board. It was because Hackley had appeared to enact a policy that increased restrictions on nurses who sought to wear donated masks in retaliation for the nurses exercising their legal right to collective action by wearing the masks for personal safety.
Justin Howe is an ICU RN and president of the Mercy Health Partners RN Staff Council, which is the local affiliate of the Michigan Nurses Association.
“It’s sad that we can count on the community to protect us but we can’t count on our own hospital,” Howe said. “We want to thank other local unions and the community for having our backs.”