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

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 herpes virus at Bayfront Health in St. Petersburg since Mid-may.

Stefanie Davis, a rn, spoke only with ABC Action News on the changes, she says, the hospital has to do at this time 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 aid 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 go 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 generated her resignation.

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

Davis refused to battle, what she calls, the unsafe assignment. She elevated her complaint up the chain of command requesting more help but claims she was threatened with patient abandonment and with the increasing loss of her job if she didn’t keep on.

“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, up to now, 24 workers have gotten sick.

“There are far more than 14 ICU nurses [sick] at this time,” she said. “We’re having a containment problem within the hospital. It’s obvious.”

ABC Action News got a your hands on an internal memo CEO Sharon Hayes delivered to staff on June 10. In it, she writes: “Having numerous staff out sick has generated staffing challenges while the quantity of positive patients has been increasing.”

“Everybody is sick. We don’t possess enough individuals to take care of the patients and we’re concerned with patient safety,” said Davis. “Yet, whenever we voiced these concerns, it’s like nothing beats you’re silenced.”

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

“Makes you’re feeling like a non-human. Makes you’re feeling 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 ahead forward however they expressed the exact same concerns.

“This just isn’t 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 absolutely was my family member I would never want them to go there. I do believe they’ve lost sight of the mission.”

Meanwhile, in a statement from Bayfront:

“The safety and health of every person in our team is vital to us. Since the start of the pandemic, we have been working continuously to guard 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 can be asking for improvements in use of PPE like N95 masks. She says nurses utilize 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.

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, this has been a struggle for nurses to gain access to them.

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

The hospital tells ABC Action News it is focusing on rolling out measures to greatly help with staffing challenges. The hospital is contracting more folks with a staffing agency. They’re set to start on Monday.

While Davis says this is a start, she questions how it got up to now. She hopes it never gets to this aspect again and pleads with the hospital to earnestly 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 regions of improvement. At this point of publication, she hasn’t heard back.

You can see the hospital’s full statement here:

The health and safety of each member of all of us is very important to us. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve been working continuously to protect we and keep in touch 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 guidelines are issued. We are fortunate to really have a strong working relationship with your local health department and also have remained in close experience of them through the community’s a reaction 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 already established sufficient PPE supplies to aid our provider team for the duration of this public health emergency. To help facilitate staff access to PPE, we established a roaming PPE cart in early April where employees could easily receive supplies in accordance with your conservation strategies. Our hospital – like many others throughout the state and the nation – is optimizing our utilization of PPE, including N95 respirators, in accordance with CDC guidelines. As this public health emergency continues, it’s prudent for all of us to accordingly conserve supplies to maintain the best protective levels for our team, now and in the long run.

A few our employees have tested positive – a total 24 employees, to date – since the number of COVID-19 cases have increased in our community. Employees who’ve tested positive are in isolation at home and being monitored, with followup testing. Contact tracing has been conducted to identify any patients or staff who should self-monitor and isolate to mitigate additional spread. Staff infection has created challenges while the quantity of positive patients is rising, but we have been actively monitoring patient volumes and has to staff appropriately. We will work with a staffing agency to bring in additional nurses for coverage beginning Monday.

Additional Background InformationFor a lot more than three months, we’ve 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 facets and symptoms and holding in-service trainings to reinforce the correct use of personal protective equipment in accordance with CDC guidance.

Patients with the outward symptoms and risk factors for COVID-19 are put 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 now been and continue being cohorted in dedicated units with care supplied by designated downline. There have now been a limited quantity of instances in which staff moved between departments, which can be standard in many hospitals, especially throughout an influx of cases on a particular unit. Staff working in the designated COVID units followed CDC guidelines for PPE usage and illness prevention at all times.



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