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Nurses: UPHS-Marquette not working with them to prepare for COVID-19

MARQUETTE — A local nurses’ union says UP Health System-Marquette is failing to work with its nurses to prepare for the COVID-19 crisis, and also claims the hospital is 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 operating nurse and president of the local RN Staff Council, in a news release.

The council is an affiliate of the Michigan Nurses Association.

“Instead of having trained (registered nurses) 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,” DePetro said. “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, the union said, with only some nurses currently being issued an N95 mask. Even those who receive N95s are instructed to use it repeatedly, it said, and 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-19; and

≤ Clear and consistent screening protocols that adhere to best practices.

Despite having fewer 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, the union said. Michigan Medicine has done the same.

The nurses’ union also proposes 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 into the hospital. It said nurses should be performing the screening because they have the clinical judgment and the ability to do an accurate assessment of people as they enter the building.

In addition, nurses could be trained right now for dealing with COVID-19 patients before the hospital gets hit hard, the union said.

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, it said.

“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 our community safe,” said Suzette Hantz, RN, in a news release. “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 nurses will suffer if it is not prepared.”

UPHS officials did not respond with a comment by press time this morning.

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