PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s been more than a week since Pennsylvania’s largest nurses’ union wrote an eye-opening letter to the state’s health department about a lack of access to face masks and other supplies in hospitals. But today, the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals finally met with Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine.

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The nurses’ union essentially told Levine hospitals are rationing N95 face masks because of new guidelines issued by the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We modified our care practices to accommodate rationing of equipment,” said union president Maureen May.

May is one of 8,500 members of the union. Earlier this month, it sent a letter to Levine, saying face masks and other equipment are being stockpiled by hospitals, but only a small amount of masks are being distributed.

“Pennsylvania health care professionals are scared, exhausted, starting to get sick, and some are dying,” the letter reads. “It’s not about the quantity of PPE locked away in a closet, but whether the hospitals are handing out the PPE to staff.”

“Using N95s, it’s a one-time use. We now use it all day at certain facilities throughout the state,” May said. “Some of the nurses and health care providers use that N95 for three days.”

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May says nurses worry about reusing equipment over and over again.

“With rationing and lessening of the guidelines to protecting not just myself but patients and the community, we increase the risk towards the patient contracting the virus and also to ourselves and the community,” May explained.

But the nurses’ union is hopeful. It had a phone meeting today with state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine.

Still, we learned from health officials Pennsylvania and Philadelphia each placed multimillion-dollar orders for face masks and other medical supplies months ago. However, only a fraction have been delivered, so far.

“Much of that is very, very hard to find because it’s a global pandemic,” Levine said.


Levine also says current policies do protect health care workers. She wants her department to be made aware of any hospitals not following state or CDC guidelines.