Workers at DC hospital demand new PPE

Nurses at Medstar Washington Hospital Center in the District of Columbia are demanding optimal personal protective equipment, saying they are forced to reuse processed, soiled N95 respirator masks that put workers’ health in jeopardy, according to the union that represents them.  

The National Nurses United held a news conference July 23 regarding PPE. 

Nurses are calling on the hospital to abandon the Battelle Memorial Institute’s decontamination process for N95 respirators which uses vaporized hydrogen peroxide, according to the union. 

Battelle, a Columbus, Ohio-based nonprofit company, received more than $400 million in federal contracts to develop the process, and it contends the system allows N95 masks to be safely decontaminated multiple times without degrading performance.

But Medstar nurses say the process leads to the use of unsanitary and soiled masks. The union said nurses report processed masks “are often soiled with makeup or other spots, appear dingy, misshapen and smell of chemicals.” 

National Nurses United also claims the hospital is not offering nurses COVID-19 testing unless they are symptomatic, and it wants Medstar Washington to offer tests to any employee who wants one. 

In a statement emailed to Becker’s, Medstar Washington said it has repeatedly explained to the union that global demand for PPE far exceeds global supplies. The statement also said the hospital is continuously investing in new PPE and that its approach focuses on conservation of PPE in addition to acquisition of new PPE.

“The safety of our associates is always a top priority, and like more than 500 hospitals across the country, we chose Vapor Phase Hydrogen Peroxide decontamination of N95 masks based on careful consideration of the science and scientific recommendations. The process is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and has emergency use authorization approval from the Food and Drug Administration,” the statement said. 

Regarding testing, the hospital said since March it has instructed workers with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or concerns about COVID-19 exposure to contact the hospital’s Occupational Health to evaluate symptoms. 


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