MARQUETTE — The Michigan Nurses Association and the MGH RN Staff Council has released a statement addressing concerns about UP Health Systems-Marquette’s response and preparation for the COVID-19 crisis.

Nurses throughout the hospital were screening patients, visitors, and employees that came through the doors, as well as doing other necessary tasks such as supervising the use of personal protective equipment. That is, until late last week when the hospital and it’s council informed the nurses that they would no longer be fulfilling those duties. Now, approximately 100 nurses have been sent home without pay, which could cause problems in the future if the virus were to hit harder in the community.

“We have about 100 nurses right now that are not being utilized at the hospital,” said Stephanie DePetro, President of the MGH RN Staff Council and a member of the MNA Board of Directors. “And my big concern with that is once they can’t pay their bills, they’re going to go elsewhere for work. Well then what happens to our community when that virus finally does hit? Because it is coming, it’s just when, and that’s what I’m really concerned about.”

There are currently about 375 nurses employed at the hospital, and the recent move to send just under a quarter of them home has caused concerns for the nurses.

The MNA and the MGH RN Staff Council have reached out to the hospital in hopes to discuss changes that could be made to their current plans, which would include a bank of paid leave time for the 100 nurses that have been sent home, as well as the following:

  • Additional protections for nurses who may become ill after treating patients that test positive for COVID-19
  • Proper screenings for everyone that comes into the facility
  • Exempting nurses in vulnerable categories, including those who are immunocompromised or pregnant, from treating patients with COVID

DePetro also says the nurses that have been sent home could be training at this time to help out in other areas around the hospital in preparation for more cases of COVID-19. At this point, some of the nurses would come back to the hospital if the virus was more widespread in the area, but without proper training and preparation, nurses would be learning as they go.

“So right now, with having the 100 nurses not being utilized, they could be up on the floors learning different types of charting or procedures that they’re not used to doing,” DePetro said. “Learning how to take care of those higher intensity, higher acuity patients, and we don’t see that happening right now.”

There also is a shortage of PPE at the hospital, such as gloves, masks, and gowns. While the community has stepped up and donated many items to the hospital in this trying time, and the nurses are thankful for the generosity, they fear there will be a time in the near future when they run out. According to the press release, nurses have been instructed to wear some PPE items multiple times when they are only supposed to be worn once.

As of right now, the hospital and its’ attorney have not responded to the MNA and the MGH RN Staff Council’s request to discuss the proposed changes, which has sent a clear message to the nurses.

“It makes me feel like the nurses are not cared for by this company,” said DePetro. “I really feel like we’re an after-thought. We’re the people at the bedsides taking care of patients every single day, and it just feels like we’re an after-thought to this company.”

Read the full press release from the MNA and the MGH RN Staff Council below:

Nurses: UPHS-Marquette Isn’t Working with Us to Prepare for COVID-19
Hospital is idling nurses despite pending crisis, rationing protective equipment
MARQUETTE – U.P. Health System-Marquette is failing to work with its nurses on preparing for the COVID-19 crisis and forcing up to 100 of them off work without pay despite jobs at the hospital they could be doing right now.
“We know the COVID-19 crisis is just around the corner for us here in Marquette and it’s urgent that our hospital is getting ready for it instead of abandoning our nurses,” said Stephanie DePetro, an OR nurse and president of the MGH RN Staff Council, an affiliate of the Michigan Nurses Association. “Instead of having trained RNs screening people who come into the hospital for signs of COVID-19, the hospital is having others perform this vital task – when they even bother to perform it at all. Lack of proper screening at entrances is putting our nurses, patients and community at risk. Now is not the time for UPHS to try to increase its profits. UPHS needs to step up and do the right thing for our nurses so we can keep our community safe now and as the COVID-19 crisis worsens in the U.P.”
The personal protective equipment situation is also dire. Only some nurses are currently being issued an N95 mask. Even those who receive N95s are instructed to use it repeatedly. The masks are supposed to be used only once. 
The nurses’ union has proposed an agreement with the hospital that covers protections for nurses that the hospital has not responded to, including:

  • Providing paid time off to nurses who contract COVID-19 or have to self-quarantine
  • Exempting nurses in vulnerable categories, including those who are immunocompromised or pregnant, from treating patients with COVID 
  • Clear and consistent screening protocols that adhere to best practices 

 Despite having less resources than many private health corporations such as UPHS, public health departments in Macomb, Oakland, and Ingham counties have all made written guarantees to provide paid time off to every RN who contracts COVID-19 and other benefits that will protect nurses as they work to protect the public. Michigan Medicine has done the same.
The nurses’ union is also proposing a bank of paid leave for the nearly 100 nurses who UPHS executives have forced off work without pay instead of providing with other jobs at the hospital, such as screening those coming in to the hospital. Nurses should be doing the screening because they have the clinical judgement and the ability to do an accurate assessment of people as they enter the building.

In addition, nurses could be being trained right now for dealing with COVID-1 patients, before the hospital gets hit hard. 
The bank of paid leave time proposed by the union would serve as a bridge so nurses can make ends meet until they are recalled to duty once the COVID-19 crisis inevitably hits UPHS.
“While we greatly appreciate the donations and support from the community, nurses need much more from UPHS if we’re going to stay safe and keep the community safe,” said Suzette Hantz, RN. “We need to keep our nurses right here at home now because they will be needed very soon, and the hospital should be training them right now. The hospital needs to step up to the plate because the community and the nurses will suffer if it is not prepared.”