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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL)

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Select Committee on Minnesota’s Pandemic Response and Rebuilding holds hearing on workplace safety for nurses

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

St. Paul, Minnesota — Today, the Minnesota House Select Committee on Minnesota’s Pandemic Response and Rebuilding held its first hearing, focusing on workplace safety for nurses during the COVID-19 public health crisis. The Select Committee is looking at the impact of the pandemic on Minnesota, federal and state government responses to the pandemic, and possible future responses — including workplace safety, workers’ rights, and broader societal changes. 

"Our nurses and health care workers are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. They put themselves at risk to take care of Minnesotans because that is their calling,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman. “Since this crisis began, the legislature has provided $400 million to help make sure our health care system has the resources it needs to respond to COVID-19. A primary purpose of that funding was to ensure we have adequate PPE for our frontline workers. The nurses let us know that current PPE allocations are not adequate, and they don't feel safe. We will follow up to see what we can do to ensure the nurses have what they need to keep them and their families safe."

The Select Committee heard testimony from several nurses and the Minnesota Hospital Association. Nurses expressed their concerns about how hospitals are responding to the pandemic, how personal protective equipment (PPE) is being allocated, and how nurses often face discipline and retaliation for voicing their concerns. Testifiers added that hospitals have been unwilling to provide them with places to shower or change their clothes after shifts so that they don’t have to risk bringing contaminated items into their home. Some hospitals have nurses bringing their own PPE, which nurses then have to bring home and launder themselves.

“Our nurses and health care workers are the heroes of this pandemic,” said House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler. “Minnesota is more prepared to tackle this crisis than we were weeks ago, but we should not squander the sacrifice all Minnesotans made to get us here. We need to continue restrictions that are essential for protecting the health and safety of our health care workers, and right now our personal protective equipment supplies do not appear adequate for worker safety."

“All over Minnesota, nurses are being forced to utilize unsafe practices,” said Mary C. Turner, an intensive care unit nurse at North Memorial Health and MNA President. “At my hospital, nurses are re-using gowns and masks, that until recently, we threw away. Yet, we’re told they’re safe now. This is crazy in a state where we pride ourselves on delivering the best care. We’ve relaxed our standards when we should be setting them by protecting our workers and our patients.”

Materials from the committee can be found here. Video of the hearing will be available here.