Georgia Nurses Need Our Help as Hospitals Run Dangerously Low on PPE

Published by Ashley Broadwater on

Georgia Nurses Need Our Help as Hospitals Run Dangerously Low on PPE

Editor’s Note: This story is part of our COVID-19 (the ‘rona) series. Click to learn more about our local ‘rona coverage.

Given that COVID-19 is the first global pandemic in the Information Age and a lot of news organizations and people spread misinformation, many feel panicked. It’s nearly impossible to find toilet paper or other sanitation supplies, and people are having to crowdsource maskscreate makeshift masks or ask for one from churches. Fabric Joann has started a campaign as well in which masks can be bought online. 

One would think hospitals wouldn’t have this issue. Hospitals are full of sick people; surely they have all of the personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gowns, masks and gloves that they need, right? 

Wrong

According to Chris Shumate, a registered nurse at an Atlanta hospital, medical providers are having to share masks or use the same one for their entire shift, which can last up to 12 hours or more. They’ve been asked to label a bag with their gown inside and hang it on the patient’s door.

Shumate believes cross-contamination is likely to occur. “They just tell us to only change out the gowns for anything if it’s visibly soiled. But I was saying a lot of things aren’t visible. We used to use the gowns, then throw them away,” he said.

Health Students Taking Action Together, Inc. volunteers hand out masks, water bottles and more during the protests for #BlackLivesMatter on June 6.
Judith Y. Kim | Avant-Youth

According to Cardinal Health, gowns can’t be properly sterilized either because of the risk of cross-contamination; it had to recall gowns due to an inability to provide sterility assurances. According to Shumate, some doctors and nurses have been forced to wear trash bags instead and ended up contracting the virus.

This PPE safety issue has gone on for over eight weeks. Shumate feels worried and baffled at the situation. He’s not alone: Seven out of 10 nurses don’t feel safe or equipped to handle the COVID-19 crisis because of the lack of PPE.

“When the PPE runs out, the hospital wasn’t going to send [any more PPE] to us unless it’s an absolute emergency,” Shumate said. “It seems like they’re trying to cover their bottom dollar.”

Hospitals are running low on money because they don’t have the space to cover high-cost surgeries that aren’t life-and-death. 

“With all of the health stuff going on with the virus, people have been using the PPE a lot more than usual to protect themselves. Now that the hospital’s budget is lower, I feel like they’re trying to hold onto everything they have. Everything will come back to that budget,” Shumate said. 

To bring in more money, they’re charging for items geared towards customer satisfaction and are asking nurses to potentially work without pay.

“They’re telling us to charge for everything we give to every patient no matter what it is, and we can’t do overtime no matter how short-staffed we are. We have to clock in and out right on time and even finish things off the clock,” Shumate said.

Emory Healthcare, an 11-hospital system here in Atlanta, had to cut or furlough 1,500 workers due to revenue loss. The American Health Association (AHA) estimates a financial impact of $202.6 billion for American hospital systems. Some rural hospitals have closed down entirely, and those affected by these closings are predominantly people who are low-income, elderly, chronically ill or minorities. 

To help cover the costs further, the hospital Shumate works at is now letting in just about anyone. “[The hospital] likes to say it’s always about the patients, but it looks like it’s all about the patients’ money. I’ve got a lot of questions for them. Priorities are skewed,” Shumate said. “I understand hospitals need to support themselves, but I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

And patients are entering the hospital without getting tested for COVID-19. According to Shumate, a patient wasn’t tested in the emergency room like they were supposed to be, and when they were finally tested later, it came back positive. 

Shumate also said he and his coworkers worry about their other coworkers who haven’t shown up to work in a month  potentially because they contracted COVID-19.

Black health care workers speak up about why they got into the health care industry, their hopes to make Black lives matter, but to reinforce that today during a June 6 march.
Judith Y. Kim | Avant-Youth

More money needs to go towards medical providers and their safety. Shumate thinks budget cuts should focus on nonessential areas, like patient satisfaction, since a hospital is a place to get better. “It’s good to make people feel cared for and happy, but the prioritization should be on the nurses,” he said.

Shumate believes the hospital has a way to fix this, but they likely won’t. “A little more support and prioritization should be given to the staff on these floors. If we don’t protect ourselves and then we’re out sick and the hospital is worrying about its income, it’s definitely going to be worse if we’re out too,” he said. 

On April 20, Gov. Kemp said surgeons could start operating on patients again, though Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Health, Dr. Kathleen Toomey, admitted Georgia had not met the full criteria for reopening. Gov. Kemp’s office refused to comment when asked about hospital workers’ safety with the lack of PPE and doctors having to resume surgeries, regardless of their fears. 

But don’t give up hope: Young adults can help this situation. Shumate says the main thing they can do is be more knowledgeable about the virus and maintain at least some level of social distancing. Further, by keeping themselves safe, they can keep their loved ones safe. The death rate from COVID-19 increased by 500 percent in 48 hours, in which one hundred people died, after Georgia reopened on April 24. 

By social distancing, even as businesses open, people can help take away the strain from the lack of PPE. “If they do stay home and stay with the guidelines said before, the PPE issue would still be there, just not go as far out of hand,” Shumate said.

The Georgia Hospital Association seems to believe hospitals are fine.

Health care workers and med students alike gather to protest and march for black lives and racial injustice in the health care system. Judith Y. Kim | Avant-Youth

“Keeping our health care workforce safe is a top priority for our hospitals,” the Georgia Hospital Association said in a statement

Hospitals are following current CDC best practices and encouraging our nurses, physicians and other clinical staff to adhere to the recommended PPE conservation methods to ensure their own safety as hospitals cope with the shortage.”

But as Shumate and other nurses have seen, hospital workers have to look out for themselves. The situation isn’t as simple as just “following procedures.” Procedures can’t be fully followed if they don’t have enough PPE.

People in Atlanta are in need of extra masks as well for when they protest against systemic racism and the unjust deaths of black people at the hands of police. According to Shumate, employees from both Grady and the Emory health care systems have taken a knee outside of hospitals for 8 minutes and 46 seconds the amount of time it took for a police officer to kill George Floyd with his knee on Floyd’s neck. 

Shumate is proud of the hospital employees’ engagement and wants to remind people of the importance of PPE when protesting. 

“The risk for contracting COVID is still very high,” he said. “[The number of people with COVID-19] could very well start to increase again as early as next week. With vigilance and a mind on keeping safe and healthy, I believe we all will achieve the change we are striving for.” 

Two young volunteers help by giving out orange masks they funded with their friends for the BLM protest.
Judith Y. Kim | Avant-Youth

To help, young adults can also consider making masks. Shumate said one of his coworker’s friends made between a thousand and two thousand cloth masks, so now the nurses don’t have to wear the same mask or share them anymore. However, at the same time, masks are in constant need at hospitals, especially rural ones. Despite donations and disinfectants, PPE is constantly used and in short supply.

Those masks can be taken to Emory Healthcare’s drive-through donation site on Clifton Road. Instead of just saying health care workers are heroes, help them stay safe and healthy by supplying masks.

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Ashley Broadwater

Ashley Broadwater

Ashley Broadwater is a recent graduate of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at UNC-Chapel Hill. She has a great appreciation for puns, Diet Cherry Lemon SunDrop, Halloween and the word “literally” — literally. A fun fact about her is that one-third of her face was once on Good Morning America.

3 Comments

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Dorothy Leone -Glasser · June 8, 2020 at 10:18 am

We are ARxC and have been donating supplies tand filtered masks o Emory/Grady/St.Joeseph’s hospitals. They recent toid us they have enoygh. Please connect me with staff who needs masks. We can help! [email protected], 678.778.3614
Great job Avant Youth!

    Ashley Broadwater

    Ashley Broadwater · June 8, 2020 at 11:02 am

    Thank you so much for letting us know, Dorothy! I appreciate ARxC’s support!

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