“We’re running out of nurses” — a COVID-19 outbreak among Providence Memorial ICU nursing staff

El Paso Matters

EL PASO, Texas – Between five and eight intensive care unit nurses at The Hospitals of Providence Memorial Campus have tested positive for COVID-19, with additional suspected cases among ICU nurses, according to several Providence staff members. 

“We’re running out of nurses,” said one Providence Memorial ICU nurse who is currently home sick with COVID-19. She asked that she not be identified for fear of retaliation, so El Paso Matters is calling her Martha.

This story is based on interviews with six nurses from Providence Memorial, 2001 N. Oregon, including five who work in the ICU. All of them asked not to be identified, for fear of negative repercussions for speaking out about their workplace. They’re being identified by pseudonyms for this story. 

Martha said she and between four to seven other Providence Memorial ICU nurses have tested positive in recent days, and more are awaiting test results. Because the hospital does not share COVID-19 positive case information, exact numbers are unclear among staff. Nurses rely on reporting to each other in order to find out when coworkers have tested positive.  

Multiple members of the ICU nursing staff said the hospital initially attributed these COVID-19 cases to community spread of the disease instead of workplace spread, and declined to provide ill workers with quarantine/hazard pay for lost work. Instead, several nurses said they were initially expected to use their paid time off, a combined pool of vacation days and sick days.

“The (chief nursing officer) said that they couldn’t find a source from where we got sick, so it must have been community acquired. He believes that we didn’t get sick at the hospital, that we all must have gotten it from the community,” said Martha, who coughed through an interview. 

Martha later said hospital officials changed their minds and decided to give sick workers hazard pay after all, though they continue to say the infection wasn’t spread within the hospital. She said they did not receive notification in writing, and continued to have concerns over whether they would actually be paid for time out sick. 

“It’s just disheartening, because a lot of us have been working nonstop in COVID, working really hard, trying our best. So then to find out that when you get sick, they just don’t really care, they tell you to use your PTO hours and come back when you’re feeling better,” she said.

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