Nurses Protest H1N1 Respirator Mask Shortage

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , November 2, 2009

The American Nurses Association has complained to the CDC about shortages of protective respirator masks for nurses exposed to H1N1 influenza and warned that patient care could suffer during the pandemic without adequate protection measures.

In a letter to the CDC, leaders say they are deeply concern about shortages of the fitted N-95 respirators, which CDC recommends as the minimum level of respiratory protection for healthcare workers who could be exposed to the H1N1 virus. ANA said several state nurses associations have reported that nurses are having difficulty getting the N-95 respirators, and hospitals are reporting respirator shortages.

"Registered nurses want to come to work and do our jobs to take care of patients—we historically have put patients' needs ahead of our own," said ANA President Rebecca M. Patton, RN. "So it's absolutely essential to have adequate protection from exposure to the H1N1 virus. If nurses get sick and can't come to work, who will take care of patients? It is reasonable to hold our employers accountable for providing necessary equipment to protect the safety of healthcare employees and our patients."

ANA also questioned a CDC strategy that prioritizes N-95 respirator use for healthcare personnel where shortages exist, leaving other workers to use facemasks. ANA said facemasks are not intended to be "personal protective equipment," and are merely "better than nothing" devices that leak, and don't filter airborne particles.

"Considering all the national planning that has taken place in the past few years to prepare to respond to a pandemic, it is inexcusable to be facing shortages of personal protective equipment at this stage," Patton said. "Employers need to improve their commitment to support and protect RNs and all other direct healthcare workers so we can safely care for patients without putting ourselves and patients at undue risk and harm."

John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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