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Local Nurse Says Safety At His Hospital Is Inadequate Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

CHICAGO (CBS) -- While the State of Illinois continues to get more gear for health care workers in hospitals across our area for the coronavirus pandemic, CBS 2 is hearing it is not getting to nurses fast enough.

CBS 2's Jeremy Ross on Sunday heard the growing concerns of one health care worker – including safety and pay promises.

Gerald Soukal is a nurse who works at Advocate Trinity Hospital, 2320 E. 93rd St. While his experience is specific to that hospital, he says his concerns apply to hospitals across the state.

He said his immediate managers are doing whatever they can to help the situation – but he can't say that for leaders at the top.

"It feels we are soldiers off to war with maybe a pistol while everyone else has assault weapons," Soukal said.

That war is waged in waiting rooms, and the emergency department where the registered nurse works.

"I never thought I would be scared to go to work," Soukal said.

He said he thinks it is only a matter of time before he himself tests positive for COVID-19.

"I believe so," Soukal said. "I believe so, absolutely."

He continued, "Every single day when I go to work, I say a little prayer that everything's going to work out OK, that my co-workers are going to be safe and healthy, and that we have the proper equipment that we need."

And that need is great. Soukal said like nurses across the state and our nation, he is not seeing enough masks and gowns to operate safely.

Soukal added that patients waiting for care often fail to wear their masks properly, and hospitals are often too slow to spot those who could have the virus.

As a result, several of his fellow nurses have been put in quarantine.

Soukal said those workers who have had contact with a confirmed case are supposed to be warned.

"I have never gotten a call from our employee health, and I know that I interacted with people that were positive" he said. "They found out someone was positive on the 20th and it's been that long, and I still haven't gotten a phone call."

About a week ago, Soukal said workers were promised hazard pay – a boost for health care soldiers in the trenches.

But he added days later, upper management took that away from certain Trinity workers and workers elsewhere.

"For nurses, it was an extra $20 an hour," Soukal said.

He said hundreds to thousands of personnel are affected by the cut.

"I would say I feel that I can speak for myself and most nurses when I say we didn't sign up for this," he said. "I did not want to become a nurse to put my life and my family's life in danger."

The hospital sent out a statement saying, among other things, that the hazard pay issue was a misunderstanding.

We are grateful for the unwavering commitment of our team members during this unprecedented public health crisis.

Our personal protective equipment (PPE) standards – in line with guidance from the CDC, the American College of Emergency Physicians and infection prevention physicians – help to protect our patients and team members while conserving supplies as we test and care for patients with COVID-19. Like all providers, we are working on securing additional PPE and have also forged direct partnerships with manufacturers, allowing us to produce our own face shields.

We have strong infection prevention protocols in place to protect our team members, which includes screening all staff and visitors upon entry. If a team member is diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19, we follow CDC guidance for health care workers, including quarantining if necessary.

We continue to support our team members as this crisis unfolds, including adding new programs and resources like a flexible PTO policy, childcare partnerships and spiritual care services. We continue to implement pay practices to cover critical open shifts. We regret any inadvertent misunderstandings. As things evolve, we continue to evaluate and adjust practices as needed to ensure the care and well-being of our team members.

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