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Ohio Nurses Union Alleges Hospitals Aren't Providing Sufficient Protective Gear

Inside a hospital "room" for coronavirus patients at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
Greater Columbus Convention Center
Inside a hospital "room" for coronavirus patients at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

The Ohio Department of Health reports 1,999 people, or about 17%, of Ohio's confirmed coronavirus cases, are health care workers. The Ohio Nurses Association, a union representing 8,000 nurses across the state, says it wants details on where those cases are located.

"I feel that the majority of health care workers, and this is my opinion, that are picking it up at work through improper PPE,” says ONA spokeswoman Jessica Frymyer.

Frymyer is a registered nurse at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center. She says unconfirmed reports indicated that 80 Ohio State health care workers have tested positive for COVID-19. She says Ohio State officials have been "very reluctant" to release details about how many employees have tested positive.

Frymyer says she’s not surprised because there's a shortage of protective personal equipment like face masks and gloves.

"Some providers are allowed to wear the N-95 masks and then some aren't, depending on where you work, depending on what hospital you're in, what unit you're in,” Frymyer says. “So it's very confusing and very concerning."

Wexner Medical Center officials and other local hospital administrators have said they're notifying affected employees when someone tests positive, but beyond that there's little value in wider reporting on a relatively small number of cases.

Frymyer alleges that some hospitals in Ohio are pressuring nurses to come back to work even when they could be still infected.

“Some places are telling their staff to stay home, some are telling them to come back and say, 'Hey, if you’ve been without a fever for three days, we need you to come back because of our staffing,” Frymyer says. “And that is also concerning, you know, so there again, it’s inconsistencies, changing of the guidelines, it’s changing of these practices.”

Frymyer says the leaders of local unions, such as the Ohio State University Nurses Association representing 4,000 nurses, have tried to sit down with hospital management to agree on standards for equipment and the work environment.

“Unfortunately, we are getting pushback, ONA is getting pushback from those facilities," Frymyer says. "They’re not wanting to officially sit down and officially bargain."

Ohio State University emailed a statement in response to WOSU's request for comment.

“The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center adheres to current CDC guidelines for the proper use and conservation of PPE," the statement reads. "Guidelines change frequently as we all learn more about COVID-19, and we consistently update our approach and communicate the newest guidelines to our employees.”

Ohio State's statement says it continues to purchase PPE and to maintain adequate supplies, and “necessary patient care units remain open and staffed appropriately.”

Frymyer says she’s looking for a silver lining, with better dialogue between all hospitals and the union to improve the response to a crisis.

“We are the front-line experts in these kinds of issues," she says. "We need to be at the table to talk through these what-ifs, and how do we manage plans A, B and C."

What do you want to know about coronavirus in Ohio? Ask your questions below.


Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.