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Central Coast nurses call for adequate PPE and passage of the Heroes Act

Nurses take part in this week's national day of action at Bakersfield's Dignity Memorial Hospital.

Nurses across the Central Coast demonstrated this week, taking part in a national day of action. The healthcare workers aim to bring attention to the ongoing lack of personal protective equipment, or PPE.

Members of National Nurses United (NNU) said they want to “just get the word out that we, after five months of this pandemic, are still having issues with PPE,” said Amber Wiehl.

Wiehl has been a registered nurse for 17 years and works at San Luis Obispo’s Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center. Wiehl said she and her colleagues want the U.S. Senate to pass the Heroes Act.

“Which includes the Defense Production Act being enforced so that the PPE can be made in the United States,” Wiehl said. “And so that we will have enough supplies going forward and can actually have somewhat of a stockpile so that we can get to the point where we're not struggling and having to use the same mask for 12 hours a shift—or more.”

The federal bill also makes the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, “establish an emergency temporary standard on infectious diseases.” according to the NNU, and “provide desperately needed economic help in the form of cash payments, extended unemployment benefits, and daycare subsidies through the end of 2020 to families on the brink.”

Vanessa Lockard is an emergency department nurse at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital. Besides calling for passage of the Heroes Act, at that hospital this week, nurses rallied in support of their perinatal colleagues.

“Because there are eight nurses confirmed with COVID that occurred because they did not have the proper PPE to protect them from patients that supposedly were at low risk of having COVID, which are the pregnant and laboring mothers,” Lockard said.

At Lockard’s hospital, nurses are also concerned about administrative decisions that allow visitors in the maternity center, unlike the rest of the hospital.

“One of the to let everybody know [for the] administration [to] stop attempting to silence the nurses,” Lockard said. “The perinatal nurses are calling for an enhanced screen and testing for their OB patients, because they're vulnerable. [The nurses] want the administration to take it seriously that the nurses are not expendable, they're not disposable—the masks are.”

Asked for comment on the participation of local nurses in the day of action, a spokesperson for Tenent Health Central Coast, which owns and operates SLO’s Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center, wrote in an email, “while we value all of our nurses who are represented by the [California Nurses Association, part of NNU], we are disappointed that the union is taking this action.”

“The demands of COVID-19 have placed a great strain on all California hospitals and we remain committed to protecting the health and safety of our patients and staff,” said the Tenet Health Central Coast spokesperson. “We continue to follow the guidelines set by the California Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Demonstrations took place Wednesday evening at hospitals in Salinas, San Luis Obispo and Bakersfield, and around the country.

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