LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - A nurse with severe asthma said she was sent home after refusing to work without an N-95 mask.
Although Norton Health officials say they have adequate supplies of the masks, a mask shortage is a problem nurses all over the country are facing.
But Kenyatta Ervin says for her, it’s a matter of life and death. She says she knows what it’s like to have a machine breathe for you, not just from treating COVID-19 patients, but from being intubated twice herself.
“If I contract (coronavirus), I fear for my life,” Ervin said.
The award-winning nurse was using an N-95 mask, provided by Norton, while working on the coronavirus floor. But it’s when she went back to her regular shift on March 31 treating other patients that she was no longer given an N-95 mask.
She said she hasn’t been paid since that day. Norton says she is still an employee, and has not been disciplined and would have used vacation time if she doesn’t show up to work.
"I believe there's exposure with the regular surgical masks," she said.
Ervin said she provided Norton with a note from her doctor, stating that she has to wear an N-95 mask at all times and in all locations while working at the hospital.
Ervin said she worries for her fellow nurses, and echoes the concerns from around the country where the virus is draining resources, like in Michigan where officials said they are going to run out of N-95 masks this week, and in New York, where nurses have protested using the same N-95 masks for days, and sometimes weeks, at a time.
Norton Health officials said they still have supplies and are following CDC guidelines to manage them.
“I strongly believe that some are too afraid to say I really want one and I need one for fear of the same thing that happened to me,” Ervin said.
Norton said Ervin has been offered a position at another facility where any personal protection equipment would not be necessary. But Ervin said she believes without the N-95 mask, any exposure is too much.
“I am absolutely scared and worried,” Ervin said, adding that she would go back to work as a floor nurse with an N-95 mask. Louisville attorney Thomas Clay is working with her to resolve the issue. She has not filed a lawsuit and also hopes they can work something out.
Norton Health provided WAVE 3 News with the following statement.
"Ms. Ervin is currently an employee at Norton Healthcare.
At no point has she been suspended or been subject to any disciplinary action.
At her and her physician’s request, we are working through a process to reassign her to a position where she would not be required to treat positive or suspected COVID-19 patients.
Nor would she be in a clinical area where any personal protective equipment would be necessary.
This information has been communicated to Ms. Ervin both verbally and in writing.
We have continually instructed any employee with a health issue to work with their leadership team to determine how to address their concerns.
Per current guidelines, N95 masks and powered, air-purifying respirator are used when performing an aerosol generating procedure, such as a respiratory treatment or intubation.
Surgical face masks are worn by clinical staff outside of this situation. When in the room of a COVID-19-positive patient or a person under investigation, staff wears contact, droplet and eye protection, including a surgical mask.
Following these guidelines is very important as we work to ensure everyone continues to have access to the necessary PPE given the well-documented national shortages."