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Nurses Refuse to Work Unprotected

Ten nurses have been suspended at Providence St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California for refusing to work without the protection of N95 respirator masks. Are they really in short supply?

by Stephen Shenfield



1 min read

The pandemic is over and that’s official. Everyone back to work, folks! Enough loafing around already!

According to a document leaked from the Centers for Disease Control, the daily number of new cases, currently 30,000, is projected to rise to 200,000 by the end of the month. 

Fake news, I guess. 

Meanwhile it is reported that ten nurses have been suspended at Providence St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California for refusing to work without the protection of tight-fitting N95 respirator masks. A co-worker had tested positive for Covid-19 and several doctors had advised them not to care for severely affected patients without wearing a respirator. However, the hospital administration ordered them to do exactly that. They were warned that failure to comply would be reported to the state licensing board as patient abandonment and negligence.   

The nurses suspect that the respirators are not really in short supply, as the administration claims. ‘The hospital group is a multi-billion-dollar corporation,’ noted one nurse. ‘It can definitely afford to buy them.’ 

The nurses are scared not only of catching Covid-19 but also of contaminating their families. Over 9,000 healthcare workers have tested positive so far.

In public rhetoric nurses are celebrated as ‘frontline’ heroes and heroines in the fight against the pandemic. But inside the hospitals their fate depends on administrators who totally lack respect for such lowly creatures and ignore their complaints. Administrative personnel may even outnumber healthcare workers. It is their duty to ensure that paperwork is completed correctly. The main concern of high-level administrators is to earn their annual bonus. According to Healthcare Finance News, the bonus of a hospital CEO is on average about a third of base salary and is determined by revenue size and other ‘standard performance metrics.’ 

That is why the administrators do not want to buy ‘too much’ protective equipment. That is why they are always on the lookout for ways to cut personnel and other costs. 

‘There is no shortage of nurses,’ explains one inside observer. ‘There is a shortage of properly paid nursing positions.’ So nurses are forced to put in long hours of overtime. After a time they can no longer take the pressure and ‘burn out’ (here). Many quit. An increasing number commit suicide. 

Such are a few of the delights of healthcare for profit. 

Tags: nurses, pandemic, protective equipment, respirators

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I grew up in Muswell Hill, north London, and joined the Socialist Party of Great Britain at age 16. After studying mathematics and statistics, I worked as a government statistician in the 1970s before entering Soviet Studies at the University of Birmingham. I was active in the nuclear disarmament movement. In 1989 I moved with my family to Providence, Rhode Island, USA to take up a position on the faculty of Brown University, where I taught International Relations. After leaving Brown in 2000, I worked mainly as a translator from Russian. I rejoined the World Socialist Movement about 2005 and am currently general secretary of the World Socialist Party of the United States. I have written two books: The Nuclear Predicament: Explorations in Soviet Ideology (Routledge, 1987) and Russian Fascism: Traditions, Tendencies, Movements (M.E. Sharpe, 2001) and more articles, papers, and book chapters that I care to recall.

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