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St. Paul hospital reprimands nurses for wearing... hospital-issued scrubs

United Hospital says its policy is within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines, and scrubs are in "limited" supply.

United Hospital says its policy is within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines, and scrubs are in "limited" supply. AllinaHealth.org

Joel Enright is a nurse who works in a cardiac unit at United Hospital in St. Paul. Every day, he wears scrubs and a surgical mask to work to protect himself from the spread of COVID-19. When he鈥檚 done with work, those scrubs have to come home with him.

鈥淚 usually take my scrubs off at work and put them in a plastic bag,鈥 Enright says. When he gets back to his place, they go straight into the laundry basket. A lot of his colleagues have taken to stripping in their garages before going inside and tossing their duds duds directly into the washing machine.

Enright lives on the third floor of an apartment building. He can鈥檛 exactly strip on the sidewalk.

He wishes he didn鈥檛 have to do this. He worries bringing his used scrubs home鈥攅ven in a plastic bag鈥攔isks exposing him and his neighbors to coronavirus. He wishes, instead, that United did for nurses what it already does for doctors and physician鈥檚 assistants: give them hospital-issued scrubs they could leave in the building to be professionally laundered.

According to the Minnesota Nurses Association, United nurses have been so nervous about the possibility of spreading COVID-19 they鈥檝e been ditching their standard uniforms and taking scrubs from hospital supply rooms to better protect themselves. (Nurses told WCCO they also wear a sort of yellow coverlet when they鈥檙e with patients, but it鈥檚 open in the back and only comes down to the knees.)

As a result, the association says, they were 鈥渜uestioned, reprimanded, and disciplined for violating hospital dress code policy.鈥

鈥淲hat鈥檚 obscene is the lack of caring for the workers,鈥 United nurse Brittany Livaccari said in the nurse union's聽official statement. 鈥淭he same workers who are caring for the people of St. Paul, who come in the worst conditions. But they can鈥檛 have access to the safest, highest standards of protection to do their jobs caring for patients.鈥

The St. Paul City Council has since urged the hospital to 鈥渞econsider鈥 its scrubs policy in light of the nurses鈥 complaints鈥攁nd 鈥渇orego any further disciplinary action." The union welcomed that declaration, but by Thursday afternoon, had received no word of a change in hospital policy.

Enright says staff members have asked the hospital 鈥渕ultiple times鈥 why the policy can鈥檛 be changed, at least for the time being. To his knowledge, they haven't gotten an answer.

Allina Health, United鈥檚 parent company, sent City Pages a statement saying employee and patient safety was the company鈥檚 鈥渉ighest priority.鈥 But:

鈥淣either the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] nor [Minnesota Department of Health] recognize hospital-provided scrubs as Personal Protective Equipment. While we understand that some staff would feel more comfortable in hospital-issued scrubs, there are limited quantities.鈥

It went on to say that the company would 鈥渃ontinue to look at this and other ways to support [its] staff at this time.鈥

In the meantime, Enright wants Minnesotans to keep doing what most of us have been doing already: take quarantine seriously, and protect yourself and others against the virus. Whatever you can do to be safe makes his job safer, too.