Coronavirus Pandemic: Bay Area Kaiser nurses protest lack of masks, medical supplies

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Nurses at Kaiser's Oakland Medical Center used their shift change to take action Monday evening.

The group chanted, "What do we want? PPE! When do we want it? Now!"

The nurses are frustrated, and frankly frightened, by the lack of personal protective equipment.

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Kaiser nurses held similar protests in San Jose and Walnut Creek on Monday.

"We're really worried about protecting ourselves, but also our patients and our families and the community, it's really critical for us," said Katy Roemer, an OB nurse at Kaiser Oakland.

Roemer is also on the board of the California Nurses Association and is the VP of National Nurses United.

Roemer led Monday's protest in Oakland. "Nurses are being told to reuse masks, that they are being given limited amount of masks."

A Kaiser ICU nurse shared a flier with ABC7 News on Monday at the Walnut Creek protest, about how healthcare workers can reuse and extend the use of masks and eye protection.

Roemer says they need more N95s and full coverage gowns - similar to what Italian healthcare workers have been seen wearing in the news.

"It's an unfortunate situation, but it is also completely preventable. If all of these hospital corporations had done what they needed to do and bought the equipment and set it aside, we'd have that equipment now," Roemer said.

Kaiser declined an interview but sent ABC7 video clips of an executive addressing the issue:
"We know that nurses may have questions and we encourage that they bring those questions forward so we can educate based on the science and we can hear their concerns and address them, but to suggest that we are not providing protective equipment or the right protective equipment is simply inaccurate," said Michelle Gaskill-Hames, Kaiser Permanente Northern California's Senior VP of Hospital and Health Plan Operations.
Kaiser nurses have also said they are afraid they will get fired if they wear their own N95 masks to the hospital.

"They're being threatened with being fired for using masks that they bring in," said Roemer.

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In response to that, Kaiser sent a statement that said, "That is not our policy. We provide the appropriate medical-grade protective equipment for the protocols and level of patient care being provided. We cannot assure the integrity of protective equipment not provided by Kaiser Permanente."

But on Friday, Kaiser sent ABC7 News reporter, Kate Larsen, a statement that said shipments of supplies and equipment were being delayed or canceled.

And on Friday, a Kaiser doctor shared guidance for PPE donations at a Kaiser hospital in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, healthcare workers on the frontline continue to work without much clarity on how to continue protecting themselves and their patients.

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