‘This is a nightmare’: Unions, workers say Mercy Health staff do not have needed equipment; community groups donate thousands of masks, gloves and more

Mercy Health in Muskegon. Courtesy photo

As the number of coronavirus cases in Muskegon County increases, Mercy Health workers in Muskegon are facing a lack of masks and other protective equipment that is creating a “very scary situation,” SEIU Healthcare Michigan President Andrea Acevedo said Wednesday.

“Workers are very scared, very anxious,” Acevedo said. “They’re feeling disappointed they’re working for a hospital that is treating their workers this way.”

According to Acevedo, there is not the needed amount of protective gear, such as masks, for Mercy Health nurses and other staff who are interacting with patients. Because workers are facing a lack of supplies, they’ve begun bringing in their own N95 masks and other gear, which union officials and employees said hospital administrators are demanding they remove because it’s not issued by Mercy.

“They’re bringing in their own [personal protective equipment] that’s been donated or is new, and [Mercy] is saying, ‘This is not issued by the hospital; take it off,” Acevedo said. “We have told our workers to keep the masks on to protect themselves; we’ll have their backs.”

A spokeswoman for Mercy Health, Amy Rotter, said in an email to the Muskegon Times that “the safety of our staff and patients is our top priority.” Rotter emphasized that the approved personal protective equipment “is being used by those who specifically require it.”

 “Mercy Health continues to follow [personal protective equipment] use for staff according to [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and OSHA guidelines to ensure the health and safety of our staff and patients,” Mercy Health Chief Medical Officer Justin Grill said in an emailed statement.

But Fred Wyese, a registered nurse at Mercy Health in Muskegon, said the situation staff face every day is frightening.

“We are lacking all the needed supplies,” Wyese said in a statement from SEIU Healthcare Michigan. “Every day, we start with face masks with shields in the morning, and by noon we have switched to glasses with a normal face mask. N95 masks aren’t here at the Sherman campus. This is a nightmare.”

N95 masks are tightly fitting masks that are being used by healthcare workers across the country to protect themselves from the coronavirus.

Some of the items that were donated to Mercy Health in Muskegon. Photo courtesy of SEIU Healthcare Michigan

SEIU Healthcare Michigan isn’t the only organization saying Mercy staff do not have necessary equipment to protect themselves from COVID-19. On Tuesday, the Michigan Nurses Association filed a complaint with the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Labor Relations Board due to what the organization said were unacceptable working conditions at Mercy.

According to unions and workers, administrators at Mercy Health told employees to take off and throw away masks that were not hospital-issued.

It’s outrageous that the hospital doesn’t have enough proper masks to protect us and yet it punishes nurses who bring in their own,” Tom Goodman, an emergency department RN, said in a press release from the Michigan Nurses Association. “Nurses are putting our health and safety on the line every day during this pandemic, and it’s not OK to deny us the protection we need.” 

Goodman and other Mercy Health nurses have been protecting themselves against the coronavirus by using N95 masks donated by other unions and community members. The Michigan Nurses Association emphasized hospital workers prefer using N95 masks as opposed to surgical masks because they more effectively filter out particles of the coronavirus.

We are going to fight this all the way,” said Justin Howe, a registered nurse in the intensive care unit who is the president of the Mercy Health Partners RN Staff Council, the local affiliate of the Michigan Nurses Association. “It’s sad that we can count on the community to protect us but we can’t count on our own hospital. We want to thank other local unions and the community for having our backs.”

Union leaders said community organizations have been stepping up to address the gap in medical supplies at Mercy. The Muskegon Area Intermediate School District and Wesco, for example, have donated hundreds of N95 masks; 1,000 surgical masks; 5,000 medical gloves, and 100 medical bonnets.

“I’m happy and overwhelmed by the community response,”  Acevedo said.

Rotter, of Mercy Health, wrote in an email that the healthcare institution has also received “great support from the Muskegon community” and “many companies, community members and others have reached out to offer support and donations.” She said Mercy will share at a later date more about the donations.

Last week, the Region 6 Healthcare Coalition, of which Mercy is a part, received a variety of supplies, including N95 masks, surgical masks, gowns, gloves, and face shields from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Rotter said.

To donate supplies, such as N95 masks, to SEIU Healthcare Michigan, you can drop off items at the union’s Muskegon office at 1657 S. Getty St. For questions about donations or protective gear, email SEIU Healthcare Michigan at workersafety@seiuhealthcaremi.org.

Mercy Health is also accepting donations of masks and face shields, disinfectant wipes, isolation gowns, powered air-purifying respirator supplies, and hand sanitizer. At this time, health guidelines do not allow the use of hand-crafted protective equipment, such as gowns, surgical masks and shields, Mercy Health said. Donors are asked to contact Claudine Weber by emailing weberch@mercyhealth.com or calling 231-672-3896 to coordinate a donation of supplies.

Story by Anna Gustafson, the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. You can connect with her by emailing muskegontimes@gmail.com or on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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