Oklahoma hospital workers claim they’re not allowed to wear masks amid pandemic

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As doctors and nurses continue to be on the frontlines of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, KFOR has received emails from several viewers accusing hospitals of refusing to let healthcare workers wear masks while dealing with patients.  

“Now there’s just a massive overwhelming feeling of distrust,” one nurse told KFOR.  “If they’re not willing to protect our lives at a fundamental level, what are they willing to do?”

The nurse spoke with KFOR on the condition that we hide their identity because they are afraid of losing their job.  The nurse is also afraid of losing their health because they say they are not allowed to use masks while working with patients. 

“Friday afternoon, I called my financial investment guy and I doubled my life insurance policy. Just because I have kids at home,” the nurse said.  “If it’s a forgone conclusion that I will be positive at some point, I don’t have the kind of guarantee that I will be OK.”

KFOR did reach out to INTEGRIS regarding these claims.  

Chief Nurse Executive at INTEGRIS Health Kerri Bayer, MSN, sent us this statement:

“All caregivers have been provided appropriate PPE to take care of their patients safely based on their care setting. At this time, we have not supported utilization of PPE that is not medical grade unless it has been approved and deemed safe by the INTEGRIS System Incident Command. We understand there is concern and real fear surrounding COVID-19, therefore our clinical and infection prevention teams are actively discussing a solution to expand PPE usage for our caregivers.

We are providing PPE to our caregivers that provides evidence-based protection while they provide care. At this time, we have not supported utilization of PPE that is not medical grade unless it has been approved and deemed safe by the INTEGRIS System Incident Command.
Our number priority, always, is the safety of our patients and caregivers. This stands true in the face of a pandemic more than ever.
The masks being provided to patients and their families are the hand-sewn masks donated from the community. These are not medical grade and therefore not approved for use by our caregivers.

Chief Nurse Executive at INTEGRIS Health Kerri Bayer

When asked for further clarification, INTEGRIS says nurses are allowed to use their own masks if they are medical grade, approved, and used appropriately. 

The nurse we spoke with says that’s not what they are being told.

“The reason we’re not allowed to wear any kind of PPE at this point, unless the patient is known to be positive, is because it would scare the patients and the family members,” the nurse said.  “If they saw us with any kind of protection when we walk in the room.”

INTEGRIS is not the the only hospital accused of not allowing workers to use masks. 

KFOR also received emails about Norman Regional. 

One email claimed that employees are being told, “if they wear a personal mask of their own, they will be fired.”

KFOR also reached out to Norman Regional, who sent this statement:

Our nurses and other employees who care for patients, follow best-practice guidelines for the usage of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks. The protocol for the use of masks and other PPE within an acute care hospital setting are specific to the patient’s infection, illness and condition. These guidelines are based on Centers for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and the Association for Professionals in Infection Control (APIC).

Like all hospitals across America, Norman Regional has a PPE conservation strategy in place.

We’re hopeful that state and federal agencies will increase the shipment of PPE so that we are not in a situation where our nurses have to bring PPE from their own homes.
Often times masks brought from home may not be hospital grade and therefore may not provide the appropriate level of protection when caring for patients with COVID-19.  

In the meantime, masks are being provided to all employees who are working in a role where PPE such as a mask is recommended protocol.
It is our number one goal to protect our patients and our employees.

Saud Ahmed, M.D.- Infectious Disease

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