Ten Covid-19 unit nurses are heading back to work after being placed on paid administrative leave for refusing to enter coronavirus patient rooms without an N95 mask.
Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, confirmed the nurses were returning to work after they were put on paid leave April 9, hospital officials told CNN in a statement.
But Jack Cline, one of the nurses put on leave, said that while the hospital did reinstate them, it also submitted a disciplinary action – a written warning – in their employee files.
Cline shared with CNN a three-page document from the health center titled, “Corrective Action.” He said he has refused to sign the document, which is the written warning from the hospital for what it says is his “insubordination” and “refusal to follow a direct order” on April 9.
“They said it would stay in our file for three months and then they will take it out,” Cline told CNN. “Usually a write-up stays in longer than that.”
Providence’s spokeswoman Patricia Aidem confirmed the action. “We met with each of the nurses and invited them to return to work,” she said. “Disciplinary action was taken according to our policy.”
She would not comment specifically on what disciplinary action was taken, saying the hospital does not comment on personnel issues to protect employees’ privacy.
Shortly after nurses refused to enter the patient rooms, the N95 policy changed because the hospital got “an increase” in N95 masks and began sanitizing and reusing masks, “enabling us to provide them to all caregivers treating Covid-19 patients,” Aidem said at the time.
Before that, the hospital had said there were no N95 masks for them and insisted they wear surgical masks instead, the nurses said, even though other health care workers at the hospital were provided N95 masks.
In a photo shared with CNN, taken after nurses refused to enter Covid patient rooms inside the facility, eight nurses are seen inside the hospital, with seven raising their fists.
“During conversations with the nurses, we explained three times that refusing to care for their very sick patients could result in disciplinary action,” Aidem told CNN in a statement. “Saint John’s – along with most hospitals across the United States – has been issuing PPE in accordance with CDC and other expert guidelines since the pandemic began.”
Aidem reiterated the nurses were provided the appropriate personal protection equipment in accordance with guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization.
Cline and Michael Gulick, another nurse put on leave, previously told CNN the hospital would give them surgical masks – not N95 masks – while they were treating Covid-19 patients on April 9.
“While the nurses welcome the opportunity to get back to work during this pandemic, they will continue to fight for proper personal protective equipment and stand up against the disciplinary actions,” the California Nurses Association told CNN on Wednesday in a statement.
The union is also demanding the hospital rescind the written warnings given to the nurses.
The N95 masks are critical in protecting health care workers against the coronavirus because they filter out at least 95% of airborne particles – like those that could carry the novel coronavirus – according to the FDA. Many hospitals nationwide are scrambling to get more masks for their workers during the pandemic amid a global shortage.
The current CDC policy recommends that health care professionals treating Covid-19 patients wear N95 or higher level respirators. Although the N95 masks are preferred, health care workers should only wear other face masks, such as surgical masks, when respirators are not available.
The California Department of Public Health investigated Providence Saint John’s Health Center on April 14, according to Aidem, who said investigators “found no concerns about our PPE protocol or the care and protection we are providing our caregivers.”
CNN asked the state agency for its report but was told, “Details about any CDPH investigation are confidential until the investigation is complete and findings are issued to the facility.”