ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 47) - Tuesday afternoon, many nurses were able to voice their concerns to state lawmakers. Wednesday evening, they picketed at St. Paul's United Hospital. Afterward, the nurses marched to the Minnesota State Capitol where their message was loud and clear: more PPE for frontline workers.
"We're in the dark. We don't know what's going on," said United Hospital nurse Brittany Livacarri. "They're not telling us what their surge plan is. They're not communicating with us at all."
Some of the communication breakdown starts with a lack of personal protective equipment or PPE for nurses treating coronavirus patients.
"I'm working with sick people. I absolutely need an N95 mask at work. I need that," said nurse Natalie Askov. "Why can't I have that? My manager and my company cannot provide me with a valid reason for why I can't have one."
State lawmakers approved hundreds of millions of dollars for the equipment, leaving many confused about where it is.
"In some units at United [Hospital], our N95 masks are locked behind a cabinet and staff aren't able to get it," claims Livacarri.
Nurses say it has come to the point where PPE is having to be reused, contaminating the equipment meant to protect.
"This is a contradiction of terms. We've been rationing from the very first day we've had COVID-19 in our hospitals," said Mary Turner, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association.
Nurses who have tried to find PPE for themselves and their coworkers say they were met with retaliation from employers.
"For nurses to merely be trying to fight back for their own safety and have to risk being disciplined is unacceptable," Turner said. "It's unacceptable."
It has cost some nurses their jobs.
"You can't be firing nurses in the middle of a pandemic for speaking up for these things," said Askov, who has seen co-workers fired. "We want to see these nurses restored to their jobs too."
All the nurses say they are proud to do their jobs but fear for their safety as well as the safety of others.
They also agree that surgical masks and rain ponchos do not make for suitable substitutes, despite new CDC guidelines approving them.
"We want to take care of our patients but at what cost do we have to do that at?" asks Livacarri.
Turner also adds that she believes other industries should be developing PPE. While the money has been spent by lawmakers, the Minnesota Hospital Association says the shortage is a supply chain issue, rather than a financial one.
For now, getting the right equipment to the nurses on the front line is the first step.