A Kansas City nurse with 40 years of experience died from coronavirus last week — just days before her planned retirement, according to National Nurses United (NNU). In a press release, the union says Celia Yap Banago died of COVID-19 after contracting it from a patient she was treating. Now, NNU and some of Banago's coworkers are hoping her death raises awareness about the lack of personal protective equipment, or PPE, in hospitals.
Coworkers, family members and friends gathered for a vigil honoring Banago outside Research Medical Center (RMC) on Thursday night. Many others attended the vigil via video conference and NNU shared footage of the ceremony on social media Sunday. In a tweet, the union quoted a fellow nurse who said, "Nurses know the best way to honor Celia's life is to fight to #ProtectNurses and other workers on the front lines of this crisis."
One coworker said Banago loved being a mom and "she loved being a union nurse — that was really important to her," the video of the vigil shows. "Part of that was expressing concern her for the safety here at the hospital," the coworker said. "We had been fighting for appropriate personal protective equipment since January."
Several RMC nurses held protests calling for more PPE, while observing social distancing, as part of a nationwide demonstration held at 16 HCA hospitals, the union said in its press release. Dozens of RNs around the country have died from COVID-19, and thousands more have been infected, the union said.
The union accused HCA, which owns the hospital where Banago worked, of failing to provide proper PPE, CBS Kansas City affiliate KCTV reports. A union representative said that while PPE availability has improved, it's still not enough.
In a statement to KCTV, HCA replied to the union's claims:
"We are deeply disappointed that while we continue to mourn our dear colleague and friend, Celia, the union is seeking to exploit Celia's death as an opportunity to criticize the hospital for a global PPE shortage.
Not only is this simply not the case, but the challenges the pandemic has created for all hospitals are well understood. Research Medical Center is doing everything we can to protect our colleagues, not only today, but ensure supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) well into the future."
CBS News has reached out to NNU and HCA for more information and is awaiting their response.
During the candlelight vigil, coworker Charlene Carter described Banago as "a little fireball," and a "staple on our unit."
"She was a fierce advocate for our profession and our patients," Carter said.
Another coworker said, "Celia didn't have to die if she had the proper PPE, so from now on, we nurses should be fighting for PPE so none of us have to die."
During the vigil, one of Banago's sons, Jhulan Banago, called her a hero. "You're either not smart to be in this job for 40 years or you are so compassionate and selfless that you dedicate your entire life to helping others," he said.