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Nurses not allowed to wear homemade masks in most Tampa Bay hospitals

10Investigates found some local nurses have been trying to bring masks from home, even homemade masks, to stay protected, only to be told to leave them behind.

TAMPA, Fla. — You’ve probably heard about shortages of personal protective equipment, or PPE, for nurses and doctors.

10Investigates found some local nurses have been trying to bring masks from home, even homemade masks, to stay protected -- only for the hospitals to tell them to leave them behind.

While some people want to help healthcare workers by sewing homemade masks, Tampa General Hospital, AdventHealth, Moffitt Cancer Center, Sarasota Memorial Hospital, and HCA Healthcare, which runs more than a dozen hospitals in West Florida, don’t allow employees to wear them.

“In fact, some reported that they were being told to report directly to the CEO’s office if they were found wearing any unauthorized masks. That’s very intimidating language to a lot of people,” said Martin Peebles, Largo Medical Center’s chief nurse representative for National Nurses United.

The NNU is a union that represents 10,000 registered nurses at HCA Healthcare hospitals.

BayCare is allowing homemade masks in “non-patient care areas.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only recommends using homemade masks as a “last resort.”

But what about procedural masks or N95 masks that nurses either have at home or get donated to them?

AdventHealth, Moffitt, and Tampa General tell 10Investigates they’re not allowing it.

A Tampa General spokesperson says that’s because N95 masks have to be “fit-tested” and the hospital “must ensure quality control measures are being followed.”

HCA Healthcare and Sarasota Memorial said they’re allowing employees to bring PPE from home, but they have to be standard, approved PPE and not homemade.

HCA Healthcare tells 10Investigates if an employee is working with a patient who has or is suspected of having COVID-19, they have to remove personal PPE and use hospital-supplied PPE.

BayCare spokesperson Lisa Razler said an employee who wants to wear an N95 mask from home “can do so in areas where we don’t require them. If the N95 is required as appropriate PPE in a clinical setting, then we provide it to them.”

“We shouldn’t be in this situation right now,” said Candice Cordero, a registered nurse at Blake Medical Center, which is an HCA Healthcare facility in Bradenton.

Cordero said she wishes hospitals had stocked up sooner.

“I just don’t feel like enough urgency was put on that. I think it’s kind of embarrassing that we don’t have the equipment that we need when the time comes. We’re reusing N95s. Those are supposed to be single-use,” said Cordero.

The Florida Department of Health tells 10Investigates it doesn’t track how many healthcare workers are infected.

We’ve been asking hospitals for their numbers and, by our count, at least 20 hospital employees in Tampa Bay have tested positive for COVID-19.

The Florida Division of Emergency Management says it’s requested 2 million N95 face masks through Direct Federal Assistance.

RELATED: Tampa Bay nurses were told not to wear masks in hallways. Now hospitals are changing the rules.

RELATED: Shielding health care workers: University of Tampa's 'Fab Lab' makes face shields

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