UChicago Medicine Nurses Demand More Protective Equipment as Number of COVID-19 Cases Grows

As the number of COVID-19 cases mounts, UChicago nurses say they have been instructed to wear the same facemasks all day, against CDC recommendations.


National Nurses United

Members of the Illinois chapter of National Nurses United

By Alexis Florence

Members of National Nurses United (NNU) at UChicago Medicine held a press conference Friday evening to demand action from the federal government and the Center for Disease Control to increase supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) in their facilities.

Julie DiNovo, a nurse at UChicago Medicine, spoke to members of the press on behalf of her colleagues. She said that UC Med, like other medical centers across the country, is not receiving enough shipments of the proper masks and other PPE to protect nurses as cases of COVID-19 continue to climb throughout the US.

“We just don’t have enough, we're not getting the shipments of the supplies in, it’s the same abysmal situation across the country,” DiNovo said.

DiNovo advocated for more actions at the federal level to ensure nurses have protective resources.

“We risk our lives by coming here to provide the care that these patients deserve and we’ll continue to do so because we love what we do,” DiNovo said. “We’re asking that the government provide us with the resources we need to keep each other safe, to keep our patients safe and to help decrease the spread of the disease.”

DiNovo said that currently PPE, like N95 respirators, are being rationed by hospital administrators and nurses are being told to use the same masks for their entire workday. This against the CDC recommendations that state, “Disposable respirators and face masks should be removed and discarded after exiting the patient’s room or care area and closing the door.” 

DiNovo also said nurses at UChicago Medicine were informed via email that they will no longer be notified if they have come in contact with a person testing positive for COVID-19. Instead, nurses are expected to continually take their temperature, monitor themselves for symptoms of COVID-19, and notify administrators with concerns.

Reverend John Thomas of the United Church of Christ spoke on behalf of Arise Chicago, a non-profit that brings together faith and labor organizations, further reiterated the need for UChicago Medicine and government to provide more resources to protect nurses. 

“We’re also here to express our outrage that these nurses are not getting the protection that they need here at the University of Chicago Medical Center,” Thomas said. “We ask that the university with all of its resources and that the political players in this community stand up and demand the resources, the finances to provide them with the protective garb, the protective suits that they require to do their work.”

DiNovo recommended the government work with companies such as 3M, a medical supply company, to expand the supply chain to produce more PPE to protect healthcare workers.

“My recommendation is that the government steps up and open up their supplies of masks during this crisis and offers up financial incentives to companies like 3M who make these important pieces of equipment so that they can increase manufacturing so they can increase their supply,” DiNovo said. “We should have the supplies that we need to do our job.”

President of UChicago Medicine Sharon O’Keefe said in a statement that the UChicago facilities are in accordance with federal guidelines and currently have adequate supplies to protect healthcare providers.

“The NNU’s allegations are false and reckless as our clinical teams work around the clock to care for our patients and our community during this public health crisis. UChicago Medicine has never––and will never––put our nurses or other clinical providers or support staff at risk. We are in full compliance with all CDC guidelines and other federal regulations,” O’Keefe said. “It is shameful for the NNU to suggest otherwise at a time when we need to unite as a community of dedicated caregivers to fight this pandemic.”

The NNU is currently inviting the public to sign a petition that has received over 800 signatures in the first 10 hours, urging the federal government to ensure healthcare providers have the proper education and resources, including staff and PPE, to protect nurses.

The full press event was recorded on Facebook Live and can be viewed here.