Health workers attest to dwindling supplies: ‘Even Purell is running low’

Nurses do their best with very limited protection. In some hospitals one surgical mask is reused for five days.

By Lindy Rosales

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to claim lives, the United States is leading the world with the most number of people infected at more than 100,000 as of March 27. In the U.S., the epicenter points to New York State with at least 81,000 cases.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has asked for 30,000 ventilators for confined patients as the state anticipates the epidemic to peak in the coming weeks. There have been reports that in some hospitals, one ventilator is shared by two patients taking turns, which is not an ideal situation. Currently, the state has procured 7,000 units while the federal government has sent it 4,000, even as  Donald Trump brushed aside the urgent need saying, “I don’t believe you need 30,000 or 40,000 ventilators.”

The FilAm spoke to health care workers in the Filipino American community who are at the frontline and fighting the battle against COVID-19.  Here are their stories.  We are withholding some identities for confidentiality reasons.

John Marcelo is a Nurse Practitioner who works for a private hospital. Although his hospital is affiliated with a big health care system in New York City, its administrator has asked everyone to use their masks sparingly and conserve other resources.

“We are fortunate as we have several facilities and can share our resources, but were told to be careful and avoid wasteful use because they are anticipating that this pandemic will last for a couple of months,” he said.

“A surgical mask is used over the N95 respirator to protect the N95 and make it last longer,” he said.  

Two words that resonated in claps across the city as well as in this message across the street from Elmhurst Hospital. Photo: Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Facebook page

Their policy is that once inside the hospital premises, all employees must use a surgical mask. The staff is supplied with reusable face shields glasses that they have to clean.

Jimmy Rustia, a Registered Nurse (RN), disclosed there is a shortage of supplies and equipment in his hospital.

“Definitely, there is a shortage of supplies, specifically PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment). Right now, surgical masks and N95 are being rationed to nurses, we have to sign for it. If we can use one mask for the entire shift, then we do it,” he said. “Some of the nurses buy their own N95s just to have their own.”

Jimmy is hoping that in the next few days they will be getting the supplies that the federal government has promised.

“But as nurses, we don’t stop caring for our patients because of these shortages. We use whatever is handed to us and continue to provide quality nursing care to our patients,” he said.

Jimmy works in the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit but his unit is being “fitted” to take in overflow COVID-19 patients.

Andrea de Leon works in an acute care hospital in Manhattan. 

Dr. Alice Sta. Maria Almendral dons layers of protective suits, including a face shield, as she prepares to see infected patients.

“Yes, we are conserving our use of PPE. We are preparing for a surge. We have every ventilator set up and ready to go. But PPE is definitely low. Even Purell is running low,” she told The FilAm. 

Each hospital staff is given only one N95 mask to be used on PUIs or Patients Under Investigation for possible COVID-19 infection. They are asked to reuse their masks.

“Every day something changes.  There’s always a new policy for visitors, employees, and so on,” she said.  

According to John, their union, the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), is supportive of the nurses and has sent a letter to the governor of New York to call attention to their need for supplies. The NYSNA has regularly shared with their members updates regarding the COVID-19 crisis.

Dr. Alice Sta Maria Almendral, who sees patients through the Telemedicine Care online system, has pleaded for N95, gowns, and masks with shield for her hospital in the Bronx.

“We are in need of PPE at my Bronx medical office,” she wrote on Facebook. “Can anyone spare us with some please.”

A nurse responded, “We don’t have either. We haven’t been using masks.”

An acute care hospital has run out of surgical gowns, and the nurses got creative and started using black garbage bags as a substitute.

© The FilAm 2020

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