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St. Luke’s employee wants hospital to reconsider policy on using personal N-95 masks

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KWWL) -- Hospitals and health care workers face a national shortage of protective gear as they work with COVID-19 patients.

The shortages of masks and PPE's have some health care workers feeling vulnerable. One of them is Issac De Long, a mental health worker at St. Luke's Hospital in Cedar Rapids.

De Long has concerns about hospital policy regarding which employees are allowed to use personal N-95 masks that were bought or donated to them. N-95 masks are the type with a respirator versus, surgical masks that are provided by the hospital.

"I wore my mask. I was told to take it off by my management team, and I said that I have kids at home," said De Long.

He works on the Behavioral Health Unit at St. Lukes. Last Friday he said he brought in N-95 masks that had been donated by his family for himself and the nurses on his floor nurses.

"It's an N-95 mask that I was using, and she said that it was inappropriate for me to have if not everyone else had a mask, like that," said De Long.

According to documents given to KWWL News 7 by De Long, the hospital has a specific policy regarding mask usage. That policy requires wearing an N-95 type mask when working with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases or with a known high-risk exposure.

De Long contends any of the patients on his floor could have the coronavirus.

"I made the move to use an N-95 because it removes anywhere from 90 to 95% of particulates that are in the air. So I thought that this would be the best mask to use while on the unit since there's no consensus whether it's airborne or droplet," said De Long.

KWWL News 7 reached out to St. Luke's regarding the policy.

UnityPoint Health sent a statement that said, "At UnityPoint, we are concerned about the spread of COVID-19 among patients, team members and families. We are following the World Health Organization and CDC guidelines along with the direction of infectious disease professionals that monitor the safe practices and protocols including the use of personal protective equipment. We recognize team members have questions and concerns about safety and have set up support and issue resolution with our Infection Control. Our focus remains on providing the best care to our patients and reducing risk of exposure to both patients and team members in slowing community spread of COVID-19."

De Long believes if employees want to buy their own N-95 masks and wear them, they should be able too.

He's since been given the opportunity to reconsider his position with the hospital, however, De Long said he wants them to reconsider their policy.

"Some of my co-workers asked me what do we do, 'what should I do'? I said I can't tell you what to do but I know that I have kids at home. I love my coworkers, I love my community, I love my family. This is what I'm doing, for myself to protect those that I care about and those that I love."

To find more information regarding CDC recommendations on mask use, click here.

Ashley Neighbor

Reporter, Cedar Rapids

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