‘Partially protected’: Urgent care workers claim lack of COVID-19 PPE

Employees at urgent care clinics across Puget Sound claim they are still not getting proper personal protective equipment to test and treat COVID-19 patients more than nine months into the pandemic. 

In a complaint sent to the state’s Department of Labor and Industries this month, the Union of American Physicians and Dentists alleges that health care workers from 20 different MultiCare Indigo clinics, from Tumwater to Marysville, say they are only partially protected. 

“I am intimately familiar with what the L&I guidelines are for PPE and in my MultiCare position, we do not have it,” said M.C. Nachtigal, a nurse practitioner at MultiCare Indigo urgent care clinics in Seattle. 

Allegations of improper protection include a lack of N95 masks and inconsistent use of plastic shields at check-in counters. 

“Being in the medical field, seeing patients every day, you think they’d air on the side of caution and have more PPE available,” said Dr. Brian Fox, a physician at MultiCare Indigo clinics. “But we’re having trouble even getting to the baseline.”

Over the summer, the union had flagged L&I to potentially improper PPE practices at these clinics, like reusing gowns and not having N95 masks. At the time, the state did not find any violations because the nationwide PPE shortage forced the health care industry to relax standards. 

However, the state wrote in October that, “Since PPE is no longer in short supply, you will be required to provide adequate respiratory protection at all times when workers provide care for suspect and positive COVID-19 patients.”

Workers claim the clinics are still not meeting standards but MultiCare says it is and provided this statement to Q13 News: “We’ve vetted our use of masks and PPE with infectious disease and infection control physicians and specialists internally and compared our PPE guidelines to other similar organizations. We’re completely confident our staff is safe, and we have no clinical evidence to the contrary.”

While clinic workers consider how else to get their point across - they held a picket line last month - the MultiCare company is dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak at Auburn Medical Center, where the virus has spread to more than a dozen patients and health care workers. On Tuesday, an affected patient died. 

“This tragedy in Auburn, it hopefully is a wake-up call that the staff is not adequately protected, patients are not adequately protected, you cannot rely on just basics in these things,” Fox said.

Q13 News reached out to the state multiple times for a response to the union complaint about urgent care clinics but have not heard back at the time of publishing. Typically, L&I will investigate claims and if it finds violations, issue citations, and fines.