AKRON, Ohio — They are anxious, frightened and unsure how the COVID-19 virus will affect them--and it's not limited to patients. These are nurses.
In this case, nurses working inside Cleveland Clinic Akron General Hospital are describing the stark reality of life inside the 500-plus bed hospital.
"I became a nurse to help others--not to volunteer for a potential death penalty," said one nurse who describes the reality of treating patients who may have COVID-19.
It's the first day of her 12-hour shift, and a potential victim has just come up from the emergency room.
But she isn't able to don an approved N-95 mask for protection — those are locked up tight.
"They are locked in a manager's office and not being given to us," the nurse said, adding they are forced to rely on simple cotton masks and not the recommended N-95 mask.
Even more troubling, she says "when we do get one — an N-95 — we reuse it the entire shift, put it in a bio-hazard bag, then take it out for the next patient."
"These are supposed to be a one-time use mask," she says.
Personal Protection Equipment like N-95 masks, gloves, face shields and gowns are in short supply nationwide, and it is creating extreme anxiety among nurses on the front lines.
"Not only could I become infected, I can infect other patients on my floor who already are ill with conditions that have compromised their immunity systems," the nurse said.
The Ohio Nurses Association has called on hospitals across Ohio to provide nurses with proper protection to safeguard against infection.
Another nurse describes what she says is a "lack of transparency and communication" insisting hospital management is not sharing information with nurses.
Nurses who came forward asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution, but estimate the hospital has already admitted at least 30 patients who ultimately were ruled out for having the virus--but who were admitted because the symptoms seemed likely to be COVID-19.
The concern lies in treating them in the days in the hours and days before test results came back.
"I feel like we are in a war," said a third nurse, "and we are being sacrificed — what if I come home and give the virus to may family?"
A spokesperson for Akron General said "we currently have an adequate supply of PPE ( personal protective equipment) and are conserving that supply by following CDC guidelines".
With regard to communication, the hospital says "our leaders are providing caregivers with daily updates on COVID-19 and hosting weekly virtual town halls to ensure they have the latest information", adding that "the safety of our patients and caregivers is our highest priority during this challenging time."
While some nurses remain critical, the Professional Staff Nurses Association at Akron General this week "applauded" the hospital for what it called "showing leadership for if/when coronavirus affects healthcare workers."
Specifically, the association credited the hospital with guaranteeing compensation and benefits if a worker is quarantined, not counting quarantine absences due to unforeseen childcare emergencies and not requiring workers to use personal time off during a quarantine.
Akron General has also received the nursing profession's "Magnet Recognition"--the highest honor for treating patients and families.