Mary Lynn Briggs, an intensive care unit registered nurse with Dignity Health, has been through several ups and downs in her field for more than 25 years, but "it has never been this bad before."
Inside hospitals, she said the staff to patient ratio is high, meaning nurses can't dedicate enough time to helping one patient at a time. Often, she said, nurses aren't getting their 15-minute breaks or meal breaks, which means many are working close to 13- to 14-hour shifts.
Though administrators say they want to help, Briggs said she isn't seeing signs of it.
"I work night shift. I don't see anybody from administration bringing us something to eat so we can inhale something in three minutes flat. I don’t see them coming in to try to arrange for break relief," she explained. "Help us, please."
Nurses from Dignity Health joined forces with thousands of registered nurse members of National Nurses United Wednesday to demand improved staffing ratios, more personal protective equipment and patient safety from local hospitals.
Dignity Health Mercy and Memorial Hospitals said in a statement that its hospitals are doing everything possible to ensure the ability to provide care for patients while protecting staff and clinicians.
"This is a challenge facing hospitals around the state and the country. We are working across our organization, with community partners, and with local and state health officials to identify additional staffing resources, including the California National Guard, Department of Defense, and independent medical staffing agencies," according to the statement.
As the surge of COVID-19 patients continues in Kern County, the hospitals state it is essential that they have the tools and resources needed to care for their communities.
"In California, waivers for the state’s nurse-staffing ratio requirement is an important tool that helps us meet patient care needs and places hour-by-hour staffing decisions in the hands of our on-site clinical professionals who can respond to real-time patient demands," according to the Dignity Health statement. "We continue to follow guidance from the CDC and state health agencies for protecting health care workers across our entire organization. We are providing appropriate PPE to every staff member working in our hospitals."
The National Nurses United protests in Bakersfield were part of more than 200 taking place across the United States to call on elected leaders, government and hospital employers to take immediate action to save lives, according to a news release.
Nurses and other supporters stood outside local Dignity Health locations, waving signs and wearing masks and shirts in support of nurses.
Registered nurse Tana Coffey, who works in a labor and delivery unit, said maintaining staffing ratios helps save lives. If nurses have more patients than they can handle, they're more likely to make mistakes.
"We don’t want to do that. We became nurses to help people and give the best care we can," she explained. "Working in our area, if you make a mistake, it can be catastrophic and it can mean someone’s life."
Staffing ratios have been kept about the same in her unit, but Briggs said sometimes nurses who should normally care for one or two patients are juggling at least three.
Tina Ndifor, who works in a COVID-19 unit, sees approximately five patients, which is her typical staffing ratio. However, due to the safety procedures and how much individualized care each patient requires, COVID-19 has made it difficult to keep up with each person.
Securing enough PPE has been difficult these past few months as well. Briggs said she normally wears a N95 mask, a surgical mask over it and a face shield. She described the face shield as a "piece of plastic with a tourniquet stapled to it" that often breaks and snaps her head or hand.