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'Florida is a hot mess:' Nurses call on Americans to take precautions against COVID-19

Nurses say they’re still dealing with staffing shortages and a lack of some personal protective equipment.

TAMPA, Fla. — Nurses from across the country sounded the alarm Monday. 

“We need everyone to wear a mask,” said Chicago nurse Consuela Vargas in a tearful plea. “It has to happen.”

Members of National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union of registered nurses representing 170,000 members, called on the public to treat COVID-19 seriously and to take precautions to prevent infection before hospitals become overwhelmed.

“We are being forced to choose who we are going to pay attention to first,” Vargas said. “Where do you want to be on that list?”

Nurses in some areas are reporting feeling fear and burnout, concerned for their patients but also themselves. 

“I reached a point where I was numb,” Vargas admitted. “I literally felt nothing and that is a scary place for a nurse to be.”

One of the biggest complaints, the continued shortage of facemasks and other personal protective equipment.

“I have nurses here in Minnesota that still wear their masks [during] eight to 10 shifts. These masks are meant for a single use,” said Mary Turner, a COVID Unit nurse in Robbinsdale, Minnesota. “There is something seriously wrong when nurses have to take to the streets to beg for protection in the middle of a pandemic.”

Marissa Lee is a labor and delivery nurse who shared stories of similar conditions at her hospital in the Orlando area.

“Florida is a hot mess,” said Lee, who has also talked to her colleagues at other hospitals here in the Tampa Bay area.  “The same thing that is happening in Kissimmee is happening in Tampa, is happening in Chicago, it's happening in Texas.

"Let us take care of the patients. That’s all that we’re asking for."

We reached out to some of the Bay area’s largest hospitals, including Tampa General, Bayfront Health and HCA, which runs a number of local hospitals across the Bay area.

Bayfront responded:

“Bayfront Health St. Petersburg is committed to providing the highest quality of care and protecting the safety of our patients, visitors, team members and the communities we serve. 

"Like all healthcare organizations, our staffing needs are based on the number of patient visits at our outpatient facilities and patient volume in our hospital. Bayfront Health St. Petersburg will continue to adjust staffing to meet the needs of all patients. We receive PPE daily and continue to work every avenue to attain more while managing what we currently have on hand in a responsible manner.”

HCA responded saying no local nurses participated in today’s union news conference but sent us a previous statement from one of their locations in California.

“The union continues to use this pandemic in an attempt to discredit and undermine the extensive work, planning and training we have done to ensure the delivery of high quality care during this pandemic. From day one of this pandemic, our focus has been on protecting the wellbeing and livelihood of our caregivers and their families. 

"As part of HCA Healthcare, we have access to extended resources for PPE (personal protective equipment), equipment and staffing support. Our frontline caregivers have shown unwavering commitment, and our efforts to protect them have included the screening and testing of our colleagues, universal masking, contact tracing and notification, the assignment of a PPE steward to ensure the proper use and fitting of protective equipment and other safeguards, in line with guidance from the CDC. We maintain an open dialogue with our caregivers and round on them regularly to ensure they have adequate supplies and equipment. 

"We’re proud of our response and the significant resources we’ve deployed to help keep our colleagues safe."

Tampa General has not yet responded.

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