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The nurses’ union said it “vehemently opposes” hospitals restarting elective procedures due to PPE rationing and lack of testing.

The Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP), the largest nurses’ union in the state, says healthcare workers do not have essential medical supplies and other safety protections they need to move forward as the state begins to ease coronavirus restrictions. 

In a letter to Health Secretary Rachel Levine, PASNAP said the state “is being misinformed about the situation on the ground from hospitals,” as the hospitals in question allegedly sit on stockpiles of N95 respirator masks. Nurses are reportedly being forced to risk their lives on the job with inadequate, lower-quality masks.

The letter, which was obtained by Spotlight PA and radio station WITF, was written by co-executive director for PASNAP Mark Warshaw. “It’s not about the quantity of [personal protective equipment] locked away in a closet, but whether the hospitals are handing out the PPE to staff,” Warshaw wrote. He accused the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania of telling state officials that protective equipment is “not an issue at the moment,” while hospitals are actually “severely rationing” PPE. 

PASNAP represents 8,400 nurses across Pennsylvania. Many union leaders work in Philadelphia and its surrounding areas, which have been devastated by COVID-19. The letter acknowledges that facilities are lacking in supplies and are also following CDC pandemic guidelines. But Warsaw said the “crisis mode” standards “have given hospitals an excuse and enabled them to ignore basic protections and safety standards for health-care workers, and we are the ones suffering.”

The state health department declined to respond to the letter, specifically whether officials were being misinformed, but a spokesperson told WITF that Dr. Levine “appreciates the concerns raised in this letter.”

The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania did not address the individual claims raised in Warsaw’s letter, but assured WITF that hospitals are following state guidance regarding safety procedures, and are even “sharing supplies” between hospitals when facilities fall short.

Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania spokesperson Rachel Moore told WITF: “While we have seen some improvements in the supply chain, some areas remain under strain as additional cases continue to spread and the wider global market supply continues to trail demand.”

PASNAP cites other concerns beyond the mismanagement of supplies as the government slowly reopens—specifically with elective surgeries. The nurses’ union said it “vehemently opposes” hospitals restarting elective procedures due to PPE rationing and lack of testing. Elective surgeries generate 30%-50% of hospital revenue. Last month, the Hospital & Health System Association of Pennsylvania reported the halt of elective surgeries cost the state’s hospital industry about $1.5 billion per month.

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Pennsylvania hospitals have mostly avoided becoming overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, which led to Dr. Levine to allow hospitals to perform elective procedures as long as those facilities can still help patients sick with COVID-19.

“Pennsylvania health-care professionals are scared, exhausted, starting to get sick, and some are dying,” Warsaw concluded in the letter. “These frontline warriors read the guidance that hospitals receive from your department and believe that [it is] written solely to protect hospital interests at the expense of their health and safety.”