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Petaluma nurses run low on masks, test kits

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As Petaluma Valley Hospital nurses gear up for a long fight against COVID-19, the spreading illness caused by the novel coronavirus, they are running low on much needed protective gear.

Some nurses have asked for the community to donate masks and other essential equipment. Wendi Thomas, nursing director at the hospital, said the hospital is carefully conserving its supply of personal protective equipment.

“Our supply chain team is working to obtain personal protective equipment by every means possible, including placing large orders with suppliers and applying for supplies from the National Emergency Stockpile,” she said. “We are working with local organizations in Sonoma County to accept unopened, medical grade personal protective equipment such as masks. The community can reach out to the hospital to inquire on how to donate these items.”

Petaluma Staff Nurse Partnership, the union representing PVH nurses, staged a picket outside of the hospital Wednesday to draw attention to the lack of safety equipment.

Jim Goerlich, president of the union, said nurses are not encouraged to wear masks at all times while at work.

“No masks means no protection,” he said. “You can make more masks, but you can’t make more healthcare workers. Nurses are standing up for their right to stay safe.”

As patients present symptoms of the coronavirus, hospital staff are also finding test kits in short supply, Thomas said.

“Test kits have been a challenge to obtain as well,” Thomas said. “This is partly why testing is not open for anyone who wants a test. We have been working with suppliers, other hospitals and the county in order to obtain more kits. We are taking daily inventory of kits to ensure we have what we need to test high risk patients.”

A nurse since 1994, Thomas has been with Petaluma Valley Hospital since 1999. She said that PVH has a dedicated team of nurses on the front lines of the crisis.

“Each of them brings a different strength to the team,” she said. “We are very fortunate to have nurses who give of themselves to our patients in many ways. Patients come to hospitals expecting safety and compassion and I see every day how the nurses at PVH put this at the forefront of what they do.”

The work is hard, but Thomas says the emotional rewards are sustaining.

“We have the honor to shepherd patients and families during an unfamiliar time in their lives,” she said. “Being able to serve your community in this way is so gratifying. I challenge myself and my nurses to soak in those moments whenever possible.”

She added that healthcare is one of the most regulated industries with a lot of standards, double checks, new technology and computer documentation that can take away from time at the bedside.

“For most nurses, this is a time that they see themselves fulfilling their calling and feel a moral duty to serve patients no matter what the crisis is,” Thomas said.

Thomas noted that one of the best attributes of the team is a shared governance model at PVH which encourages and empowers bedside staff to be part of decision making and change for each unit. This includes ways to recognize each other, which helps create a sense of community among the nurses.

“We offer critical incident stress debriefing when serious or particularly hard situations happen,” she said.

When the 2017 and 2019 wildfires caused the closure of several Sonoma County hospitals, many patients were relocated to Petaluma Valley Hospital. The hospital has annual drills for things like earthquakes, power failure and even pandemics, and Thomas feels they are ready.

“We have been in a constant state of readiness to care for our community,” Thomas said. “There is a lot of unknown about the coronavirus. We are partnering with our sister hospitals, our health system in Providence St. Joseph Health, Sonoma County Public Health, clinics, the fire department and government agencies to do our best to stay ahead and be prepared. Everyone is working hard to stay ahead of this pandemic.”

Thomas advised avoiding the emergency department, unless a patient has a serious health emergency, in order to help prevent the risk of spreading COVID-19 infection.

“Stay home when you are sick, especially if you have respiratory illness symptoms,” she said. “At the present time, these symptoms are more likely due to influenza or other respiratory viruses than to a COVID-19 infection. Whether you have seasonal flu, the common cold, or something else, it’s important you stay away from others when sick. Visit our website at stjoesonoma.org for virtual care options and self-assessment tools.”

Thomas predicted the outbreak continuing to spread, and the staff are preparing to deal with more patients presenting symptoms of the coronavirus at the hospital.

“Be assured we have plans in place to protect the safety of all our patients, visitors and, of course, our caregivers,” she said. “We couldn’t be prouder of caregivers, doctors and leaders who are stepping up to put our patients and community at the forefront.”

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