By Aneri Pattani, Kaiser Health News Correspondent, reports on a broad range of public health topics, with a focus on mental health and substance use. She came to KHN from Spotlight PA, a collaborative newsroom investigating state government and statewide policies in Pennsylvania. She has also worked as a health reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, WNYC (New York City’s NPR station) and The New York Times. She was a 2019 recipient of the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism. Originally published at Kaiser Health News.
The nurses at Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, declared on March 6 — by filing the official paperwork — that they were ready to vote on the prospect of joining a national union. At the time, they were motivated by the desire for more nurses and support staff, and to have a voice in hospital decisions.
A week later, as the covid-19 pandemic bore down on the state, the effort was put on hold, and everyone scrambled to respond to the coronavirus. But the nurses’ long-standing concerns only became heightened during the crisis, and new issues they’d never considered suddenly became urgent problems.
Staffers struggled to find masks and other protective equipment, said nurses interviewed for this story. The hospital discouraged them from wearing masks one day and required masks 10 days later. The staff wasn’t consistently tested for covid and often not even notified when exposed to covid-positive patients. According to the nurses and a review of safety complaints made to federal regulators, the concerns persisted for months. And some nurses