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Nurse in COVID-19 ICU quits after colleagues get sick at St. Petersburg hospital

Bayfront Health St. Pete confirms 24 staff members sick
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Posted at 8:02 PM, Jun 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-15 04:48:10-04

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A former ICU nurse at a Tampa Bay hospital quit this week after an outbreak of nurses sick with COVID-19.

ABC Action News has confirmed that 24 health care workers have been infected with the virus at Bayfront Health in St. Petersburg since Mid-may.

Stefanie Davis, a registered nurse, spoke only with ABC Action News on the changes, she says, the hospital needs to do right now to turn things around.

Davis routinely worked the COVID-19 positive unit at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg. On Tuesday, she emailed managers a short letter of resignation.

"I am appreciative of the skills I have acquired at Bayfront over the years, the bond with the critical nursing team, and the close physician relationships I have established," she wrote. "However, recent events within the organization have not been aligned with my personal values of providing safe, high-quality nursing care."

Along with this resignation, she sent a two-page letter urging management to support and guide staff.

"The dismissal of fears for patients and staff well-being is not congruent with the idea that 'heroes' are working here," she wrote.

When she didn't get a response, she CC'd every employee in the building. Davis says her email was gone from the server within hours.

But her letter would live on, shared by nursing colleagues, and she even found it printed and hung on the walls of the hospital.

“It's bad," said Davis. "The staffing is horrible it's not appropriate and it's not safe for the patients.”

Davis describes the shift that led to her resignation.

She said on Sunday, June 7, she arrived to work to find that she and another nurse would be the only caretakers of the unit of patients. It meant each nurse would be in charge of three patients.

Davis refused to take on, what she calls, the unsafe assignment. She elevated her complaint up the chain of command asking for more help but claims she was threatened with patient abandonment and with the loss of her job if she didn't continue.

"The primary purpose of nursing is to be a patient advocate for their well-being," she said. "I feel that leadership has forgotten that and they are silencing the nurse's concerns about patient safety, staffing and infection control."

BELOW IS THE FULL TWO-PAGE LETTER

Bayfront Health St. Petersburg tells ABC Action News, so far, 24 staff members have gotten sick.

“There are more than 14 ICU nurses [sick] right now," she said. "We're having a containment problem within the hospital. It's obvious."

ABC Action News got a hold of an internal memo CEO Sharon Hayes sent to staff on June 10. In it, she writes: "Having a number of staff out sick has created staffing challenges while the number of positive patients has been increasing.”

“Everybody is sick. We don't have enough people to take care of the patients and we're concerned about patient safety," said Davis. "Yet, when we voiced these concerns, it's like nothing like you're silenced."

Davis says she and others are frustrated by a lack of action and getting nowhere after pointing out these problems. It’s gotten so bad, she says, instead of their usual two patients nurses are having to “triple-up.” She calls it “unsafe” and a move that may cost patient care.

"Makes you feel like a non-human. Makes you feel like a non-person like disposable, just like the mask," she said.

ABC Action News spoke at length with three other nurses who currently work at the hospital. They were too afraid to come forward but they expressed the same concerns.

“This is not normal. This is disgusting," said one of them about having to reuse PPE like N95 masks.

Another told us, "We are not backed at all. It’s a nightmare getting PPE. We are threatened when we don’t want to accept unsafe assignments."

A third said, "If it was my family member I would never want them to go there. I think they’ve lost sight of their mission.”

Meanwhile, in a statement from Bayfront:

"The health and safety of every member of our team is very important to us. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been working continuously to protect our team and communicate with them about our preparedness efforts and the steps being taken for staff and patient safety."

In her letter to the hospital, Davis is also asking for improvements in access to PPE like N95 masks. She says nurses use them "until it breaks, it's soiled or after five shifts."

After a long 12 hour shift, she says they are told to put the masks in a brown, paper lunch bag.

"So you can use it again," she said.

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Bayfront Health St. Petersburg addressed the use of PPE in its statement:

"Our hospital has had sufficient PPE supplies to support our provider team throughout this public health emergency. To help facilitate staff access to PPE, we established a roaming PPE cart in early April from which employees could easily receive supplies in accordance with our conservation strategies. Our hospital – like many others across the state and the nation – is optimizing our use of PPE, including N95 respirators, in accordance with CDC guidelines. As this public health emergency continues, it is prudent for us to appropriately conserve supplies to maintain the right protective levels for our team, now and in the future."

Davis doesn't buy this reasoning. She says while the hospital may have ample PPE, it's been a struggle for nurses to access them.

She also has a problem with the way nurses are being rotated from the COVID-19 positive unit, known as the A2-MSICU, into other units. She says this could open patients in non-COVID units to exposure.

The hospital tells ABC Action News it is working on rolling out measures to help with staffing challenges. The hospital is contracting more people with a staffing agency. They're set to start on Monday.

While Davis says this is a start, she questions how it got so far. She hopes it never gets to this point again and pleads with the hospital to actively listen to their nurses and take action.

"If this is tolerated and is OK and nurses don't have the right to be heard about patient safety issues, then I am in the wrong profession," she said.

In her letters, she welcomed an exit interview to further discuss these areas of improvement. At this point of publication, she hasn't heard back.

You can read the hospital's full statement here:

The health and safety of every member of our team is very important to us. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been working continuously to protect our team and communicate with them about our preparedness efforts and the steps being taken for staff and patient safety.

We have been closely following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and updating our guidance as new recommendations are issued. We are fortunate to have a strong working relationship with our local health department and have remained in close contact with them throughout the community’s response to the pandemic. Bayfront St. Petersburg has – and continues to – operate as a COVID-safe environment based on CDC, state and local department of health guidance.

Our hospital has had sufficient PPE supplies to support our provider team throughout this public health emergency. To help facilitate staff access to PPE, we established a roaming PPE cart in early April from which employees could easily receive supplies in accordance with our conservation strategies. Our hospital – like many others across the state and the nation – is optimizing our use of PPE, including N95 respirators, in accordance with CDC guidelines. As this public health emergency continues, it is prudent for us to appropriately conserve supplies to maintain the right protective levels for our team, now and in the future.

A small number of our employees have tested positive – a total 24 employees, as of today – as the number of COVID-19 cases have increased in our community. Employees who have tested positive are in isolation at home and being monitored, with follow up testing. Contact tracing has been conducted to identify any patients or staff who should self-monitor and isolate to mitigate additional spread. Staff illness has created challenges while the number of positive patients is rising, but we are actively monitoring patient volumes and needs to staff accordingly. We are working with a staffing agency to bring in additional nurses for coverage beginning Monday.

Additional Background InformationFor more than three months, we have been proactively implementing actions to limit the spread of the virus within the hospital for the protection of patients and staff.

These actions include:
In early March, we began screening all patients for COVID-19 risk factors and symptoms and holding in-service trainings to reinforce the proper use of personal protective equipment in accordance with CDC guidance.

Patients with the symptoms and risk factors for COVID-19 are placed in appropriate isolation status and room and given a medical mask to wear.

Patients admitted to the hospital who test positive for COVID-19 have been and continue to be cohorted in dedicated units with care provided by designated team members. There have been a limited number of instances in which staff moved between departments, which is standard in many hospitals, especially during an influx of cases on a specific unit. Staff working in the designated COVID units followed CDC guidelines for PPE usage and infection prevention at all times.