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Baystate nurses worry about safety during COVID-19 pandemic

  • Nurses from two medical centers — Baystate Noble Hospital and Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, shown here —made the appeal to Baystate. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/2/2020 4:14:24 PM
Modified: 4/2/2020 4:14:13 PM

Members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield and its sister hospital, Baystate Noble Hospital in Westfield, have called on Baystate Health to strengthen protection standards and halt staff reductions and closures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nurses at the two hospitals — Baystate Health has five in the region — have joined together to urge the hospital system to fully protect front-line health care workers and place a moratorium on staff and service cuts.

The nurses said because of the highly contagious nature of COVID-19 and the likelihood of asymptomatic exposure, they want all front-line staff to be provided with N95 masks, eye protection and hospital-issued scrubs and gowns. According to the nurses association, Baystate administration has not agreed to that safety standard.

After asking Baystate for an immediate moratorium on staff reductions and unit closures, MNA nurses were notified last week that Baystate administration rejected that request.

Robin Tibbetts and Dennise Colson are nurses at Baystate Franklin and Baystate Noble who have been quarantined for exposure to COVID-19. Neither nurse was working in a designated COVID-19 hospital area when they were exposed, supporting the nurses’ call for universal N95 mask protections.

“Every nurse and health care worker caring for patients needs the strongest COVID-19 protection,” said Tibbets, a float nurse at Baystate Franklin. “I was exposed to the virus in a unit where the hospital had not positively identified or suspected that a patient had COVID-19. Now I cannot be at the bedside caring for patients during this pandemic. My experience shows that anyone can be infected without symptoms and we need to properly protect our front-line nurses so we can fight this outbreak.”

Colson, a surgical nurse at Baystate Noble, said the day she was exposed to COVID-19, she was floated around the hospital and within the emergency department, from areas that were virus hotspots to places where no patients were known to be infected. She is now quarantined.

According to the two, Baystate does not have a universal N95 mask protection policy.

“We must act now to protect our caregivers to limit the spread of this virus,” Colson said.

In a March 31 letter to Baystate Health CEO Dr. Mark Keroack, the elected registered nurse leaders at Baystate Franklin and Baystate Noble wrote, “We are painfully aware of the need to conserve PPE (personal protective equipment) and work to find additional supplies. However, we cannot allow you to compromise the health and safety of our front-line caregivers. Too many of us are currently out of work, sick and/or quarantined due to inadequate PPE provided by Baystate Health. We cannot afford the loss of more front-line health care workers as we prepare for a possible ‘surge’ of patients. That is why we are urging you to immediately adopt universal precautions and other steps to protect our health care workforce and infrastructure.”

The letter continued, “Our membership and our communities are currently feeling the effects of Baystate’s 2019 layoffs, unit closures/reductions and threatened unit closures at Franklin, Noble and Wing. Our front-line nurses and other coworkers are doing everything to fill in the void, but the fact remains that Baystate’s cutbacks have damaged our community hospitals’ capacity to provide necessary care.”

Baystate Health, with its five hospitals across the region continuing to combat the global pandemic, said in a written statement that it recognizes the importance of providing its employees with the equipment and knowledge needed to protect themselves when caring for patients with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19. Baystate has not been giving interviews for several weeks.

Ronald Bryant, president of Baystate Franklin Medical Center, said Baystate Health has plans in place throughout the health system to accommodate a surge of patients as needed.

“We are prioritizing all available resources in support of our efforts to address the public health needs associated with COVID-19,” Bryant said in a written statement.

“We consistently follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health guidelines to assure we are correctly using personal protective equipment along with other techniques to minimize spread of infection,” said Nancy Shendell-Falik, president of Baystate Medical Center and senior vice president of hospital operations for the Baystate Health system. “Baystate Health is prioritizing all available resources in support of our efforts to address the public health needs associated with COVID-19.”

Shendell-Falik said Baystate values the work ethic, commitment and collaboration of its nurses and will “continue to make strong operational decisions that consider our regional health needs and are in the best interest of the patients, physicians, nurses and staff.”

Baystate has provided daily cumulative numbers to the Greenfield Recorder — how many people have been tested, how many have tested negative, how many have tested positive, how many are indeterminate and how many tests are pending — since mid-March, but has said it will not give any other numbers at this point. For instance, it does not break its numbers down by towns and cities, or by hospitals.

In mid-March, a Baystate Health spokesperson said all of its hospitals, including Baystate Franklin, first test people presenting with symptoms for the flu and other viruses, then test for COVID-19. That is no longer the protocol, according to Baystate Health Chief of Infectious Disease Dr. Armando Paez. He said there is no longer panel testing for flu or other viruses. Currently, those who are presenting symptoms and are in need of hospitalization/critically ill are being tested for COVID-19.

If a patient comes into the hospital suspecting they may have COVID-19, they are evaluated and then sent home to self-quarantine, he said. Only those who require critical care are being transferred to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield.

Reach Anita Fritz at: 413-772-0261, ext. 269 or

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