OAKLAND, CALIF, April 15, 2020More than 400 respiratory care practitioners (RCPs) and respiratory therapists (RTs) across California, who play a vital role in the treatment of patients with the respiratory infection COVID-19, say they do not consistently get the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to safeguard themselves, and sometimes do not even get the same equipment as doctors and RNs who are working in the same environment.

Because they intubate patients, put people with COVID-19 on respirators, and perform other dangerous procedures, the work of respiratory professionals places them in “especially close proximity to COVID-19 patients,” they say in an open letter to California hospital administrators. “In those situations, our personal protective equipment is the only thing that stands between us and infection.”

But in too many cases, the RCPs and RTs are not being given the same protections as doctors and RNs, or are being forced to re-use PPE that may have been contaminated.

“Some of us have even faced the outrageous experience of being refused N95 masks and other PPE even as the doctors and nurses working right beside us in the very same room are wearing them,” the letter says. “This inequality is demeaning. It is also dangerous to ourselves, our families, the other patients we care for, and the public at large.”

The respiratory professionals say improvement is needed, and they are calling on hospital administrators in all cases to “provide respiratory care practitioners and respiratory therapists the same PPE that doctors and nurses have for any given procedure. Such PPE includes N95 masks, face shields, eye protection, nitrile gloves, powered air purifying respirators (PAPR), and isolation gowns.”

They also say hospitals should “respect their input” because their experience and training gives them “valuable, sometimes even life-saving guidance to share.”

The letter was signed by more than 400 RCPs and RTs and has been sent to the CEOs of more than 70 California hospitals, including some of the largest hospitals and hospital systems in the state.

“By working together,” they say, “we can ensure all our health and safety.”

SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) is one of the largest unions of hospital workers in the United States, with 97,000 members. Learn more at www.seiu-uhw.org.