San Lazaro nurses seek relief as COVID-19 cases continue to rise among medical staff

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 11) — Limited manpower and medical supplies are some of the concerns raised by the Filipino Nurses United-San Lazaro chapter after 40 hospital employees tested positive for COVID-19.

"We were trained to handle infectious diseases for decades but apparently we are now becoming the victims," the group said in a statement on Friday. "As of today, San Lazaro Hospital has more than 40 cases of positive COVID-19 personnel: doctors, nurses, admins, aids and staff."

FNU said due to the limited number of isolation beds, half of the hospital staff confirmed to be COVID-19 positive and who show symptoms are admitted and confined.

According to one of the nurses from San Lazaro that CNN Philippines spoke to, they are facing strong pressure from the health department to accommodate all COVID patients who come to the facility.

“We are pressured by the Department of Health to meet yung expectations sa public na we are prepared, na we have enough rooms to accommodate, na if the infection breaks out, people have somewhere to go to,” said a nurse who is also a member of the FNU.

Because of this, she said the safety of the medical staff including nurses is compromised.

According to FNU, since the start of the enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila, patients have been pouring into the facility.

“But then nagka-surge ng patients ever since nag-declare ng ECQ. Doctors and nurses were already getting sick pero di kami nabo-broadcast unlike sa mga ibang hospitals like the Heart Center or other private hospitals,” one nurse told CNN Philippines.

[Translation: There was a surge of patients ever since the ECQ was declared. Doctors and nurses were already getting sick but it was not being reported in news outlets, unlike other hospitals like the Heart Center or private hospitals.]

Instead of having a one is to one nurse-to-patient ratio in the COVID ward, one nurse should now cater to as much as three COVID-19 patients.

The group also complained of being instructed to reuse personal protective equipment. In a 12-hour shift they are only given one N95 mask.

The nurses also said facilities in the hospital are also insufficient. One nurse said the elevator used to transport patients to upper floors has not been working for months. They have to manually assist patients and carry medical supplies to upper floors using a ramp.

According to the Chief of San Lazaro Hospital’s adult infectious diseases division, Dr. Rontgene Solente, the hospital’s COVID-19 ward was nearing full capacity.

He said 60 out 65 beds are already occupied.

In reaction to FNU’s statement, he said, the group’s statement came as a surprise to them.

In a previous meeting, medical staff were asked to voice out their sentiments but none of the issues mentioned in FNU’s statement was brought up.

For now, they will amplify the working relationship among medical personnel.

He also said that not all nurses in San Lazaro share the same sentiments with FNU.

“Yung mga psychosocial na debriefing sessions. Dalas dalasan namin yun. Pangalawa, we really have to communicate with the nurses and the doctors para lang alam natin yung working relationship within the hospital kasi hindi naman lahat ng nurses na yon ay nagsulat.”

[Translation: We need to have more frequent psychosocial briefing sessions. Second, we really have to communicate with the nurses and doctors so that we know the working relationship within the hospital.]

In a separate statement on Sunday, the hospital acknowledged the dedication of its nursing staff and said it has responded to the issues they have raised.

On the issue of personal protective equipment (PPE), the hospital said it has sufficient supply to last for a month, and that management is monitoring and doing daily inventory to make sure PPEs are always available.

"Moreover, we follow the guidelines on the appropriate use of PPEs depending on the healthcare workers' risk exposure activity or procedures in the care of COVID-169 patients," the statement said.

The hospital said it was also providing for the physical, emotional and mental health of workers by having regular psychosocial and debriefing sessions. A work schedule has also been arranged to make sure the staff is able to get enough rest, it said.

"We would like to assure the hospital staff that their safety and welfare is an important concern of the hospital management in the fight against COVID-19," the statement added.