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Santa Cruz nurses rally for better staffing and COVID safety measures

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KION) A group of Central Coast nurses gathered Thursday as part of a national day of action by health care workers demanding better investment in safe staffing measures.

Nurses across California are also expressing concern over the California Department of Public Health's new guidelines, which allow COVID-positive nurses without symptoms to return to work without isolation or testing. However, they must wear fitted N-95 masks.

"If you were sitting next to a COVID-positive patient, how would you feel? That's what I would like to say to the community. How would you feel? I don't think anybody in this community would feel OK with that. And so we're asking the hospital to not be OK with that," said Maureen Dwyer, a registered nurse at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz.

The state announced the move Saturday, citing critical staffing shortages, but the nurses at Dominican Hospital say the staffing problems have existed long before the pandemic.

"They’ve cut CNAs (certified nursing assistants). They’ve cut EVS (environmental services). We've got garbage cans that are overflowing and dirty linen that's overflowing. And then nurses have to do it. Nurses are now being pulled from taking care of your mother who’s lying in a bed full of feces because they have to go empty the garbage or empty the linen because its all over the place," added Dwyer.

The nurses say job postings go unfilled for months, and that travel nurses who fill-in temporarily and would like to stay can't afford to live in the area.

"We've been taking four COVID patients at a time for over a year, and for over a year, we have maintained that that is a very unsafe situation," added Jen Powers, who stepped out of the Med Surge unit to speak. "These patients are really sick, and four of them at a time is very difficult. And I just can't be in the room as much as I want to."

"Some nurses, when there's not enough staff, because of injuries or illnesses. They've been forced to be on call for 24 hours with no support," added Dwyer.

Dominican Hospital released a statement to KION saying in part:

The CDPH guidelines align with existing CDC guidelines allowing hospital

staff to continue working if they test positive for COVID-19, or have a

close contact, and are asymptomatic. These guidelines will be implemented

only if the hospital is facing a more serious staffing shortage that would

jeopardize its ability to provide care. While we have not yet had to

implement these guidelines, we may need to adopt this approach in the near

future.

Dignity Health Dominican Hospital

Dignity Health added that they are "actively recruiting and hiring staff members to fill open positions throughout the hospital, and have implemented processes to expedite the onboarding of our new hires."

The county is also looking at other options to at least give medical staff more support in the hospital.

"We're looking at possibly posting paramedics and EMTs in the emergency department and bringing non-medical volunteers in to help us out. We're going to need to rebuild our healthcare system and rejuvenate the brave women and men that work in health care to keep it going forward in the future," said Dr. David Ghilarducci, Deputy Health Officer for Santa Cruz County.

CDPH said their new guidance should only be used after healthcare providers exhaust all other options, and that COVID-positive workers should only interact with COVID-positive patients. The guidelines will stay in effect until Feb. 1.

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Lisa Principi

Lisa Principi is a reporter at KION News Channel 5/46.

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