Nurses at three Providence medical centers staged a protest Friday morning in support of 10 colleagues at a Santa Monica hospital who were suspended after refusing to treat coronavirus patients without N95 respirator masks.

Nurses rallied outside Providence St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica and at Little Company of Mary hospitals in San Pedro and Torrance.

According to the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, at least 15 nurses at the Santa Monica hospital previously refused to treat coronavirus patients unless they were given N95 masks or higher-standard equipment. Ten of those nurses were subsequently suspended, according to the union.

Those nurses remained on suspension Friday pending the outcome of disciplinary hearings, according to the union.

The union has acknowledged that Providence is now providing the N95 masks to nurses treating COVID-19 patients, but said such equipment should have been provided from the beginning.

“It’s a victory,” Chelsea Halmy, one of the suspended nurses, said in a statement provided by the union. “They’re finally doing what they should have been doing in the first place. We are glad, but it’s upsetting that it had to come to this point and that our safety wasn’t their first priority. We still have so much more work to do.”

In a statement released Thursday, hospital officials said that nurses were always provided with protective equipment outlined in guidelines in set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the state.

“These same guidelines are followed by most hospitals across the United States,” according to Providence. “There is a national shortage of PPE, including N95 masks. We do not manufacture these, and are at the mercy of the supply chain to increase our supplies.

“We are pleased that within the last week we received an increase in inventory and the FDA granted authorization to reprocess N95 masks, enabling us to provide them to all caregivers treating COVID-19 patients. We are proud of the work all our nurses have been performing during these unprecedented times and honor them for their many success stories. We are also proud that St. John’s Health Center is one of only a few hospitals in the United States to lead three world-class clinical trials with two of the most promising approaches to treating COVID-19 patients.”

The hospital declined to comment specifically on the suspended nurses, citing employee privacy issues.

Providence officials announced Wednesday that the hospital system had begun a process of disinfecting N95 masks to improve its supply. Hospital officials said the disinfection system, coupled with donations of masks and recent deliveries, have helped bolster local supplies, although a national shortage continues.

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