COVID-19 testing facility at Penn Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia

The union that represents 8,500 nurses and healthcare workers across Pennsylvania has released a report card with its views on how prepared hospitals are to handle the coronavirus outbreak.

The outlook, according to Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, is fair at best.

PASNAP’s report examines the policies and practices of nearly two dozen hospitals from the Philadelphia region to suburban Pittsburgh. Do they have adequate protective supplies for workers? An isolated unit set up for COVID-19 patients? An outdoor triage tent? Adequate staffing? A quarantine policy for workers?

The union surveyed its members to gather their answers to these questions and more. While the report card does not reflect the official policy statements of the hospitals surveyed, union president Maureen May says the information is sourced from people with the most direct knowledge.

“We are the frontline caregivers,” May said. “We have been told this is a war, and we are the boots on the ground. We need to take care of our caregivers and we need to have resources.”

Union members scored their employers’ preparedness with a “good,” “fair,” and “not adequate” scoring system.

Here are their main findings:

  • Workers at 21 of 23 hospitals surveyed said they were concerned about levels of PPE (personal protective equipment) for workers.
  • Workers at St. Mary’s in Bucks County and Wills Eye in Philly said the hospitals are not providing adequate N-95 masks at all.
  • 10 of the 23 hospitals have established adequate tent or outdoor triage stations for COVID-19 patients.
  • Only 7 of 23 hospitals had designated a separate unit in the hospital for COVID-19 patients.

Under normal circumstances, hospitals usually separate patients with immunodeficiencies from the general population. Shannan Giambrone, president of Suburban General Hospital in Norristown, said separation now is even more necessary now to stop the virus from spreading.

“Within the hospital, to have an area that is designated for those patients, it will prevent spread throughout the hospital,” Giambrone said.

The survey also examined each hospital’s absence policy for workers who are diagnosed with COVID-19 and need to quarantine. That was the subject of a Billy Penn report on Tuesday in which the nurses’ union said hospitals were not guaranteeing paid leave to workers.

“When we call off sick because we’re ill, we risk being disciplined,” said Tammy May, a PASNAP board member who works at Butler Memorial Hospital. “What we’re asking is for hospitals to list those absentee policies that are non-punitive…If we have symptoms, we’re using our PTO or sick time, there’s no policy to ensure we won’t be disciplined.”

The union’s survey of members found:

  • More than half of the hospitals surveyed have not established an absence policy for COVID-19 diagnoses among staff.
  • Nine hospitals were ranked as offering “inadequate” benefits for workers who need to quarantine for 14 days. Among those hospitals, five of which are located in Philly, workers reported that they must use accrued paid or sick time — “or risk not getting paid.”
  • Eight hospitals offered “adequate” paid administrative leave, or else the local county government offered to pay for quarantined hospital workers’ time off.

View the full report here:

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Max Marin (he/him) was Billy Penn's investigative reporter from 2018 to 2021. A graduate of Temple University, he has produced award-winning journalism on local politics, criminal justice, immigration...