NJ nurse says she was forced to lose her job over COVID-19 safety
A registered nurse from Camden County says she was fired from her job at Virtua Voorhees Hospital on Friday for trying to keep herself and others safe at work from the novel coronavirus.
The South Jersey hospital system, meanwhile, says Dawn Kulach refused to comply with its infection control policies and protocols, and that's why her employment was terminated. Kulach said those policies and protocols are not protective enough.
"I just wanted to do my job in the safest way possible, and that was not OK," Kulach, 39, told New Jersey 101.5.
The Sicklerville resident had been given an ultimatum by management on Thursday: Resign or be terminated. On Friday morning, she informed them she would not resign and hours later she was notified by letter of the termination.
"You shared during our meeting yesterday that you are unwilling to work unless Virtua issues an N95 mask to all hospital employees, regardless of patient care assignment, and that you will not comply with Virtua's Personal Protective Equipment Policy, with respect to gloves," the letter says.
When contacted for comment, Virtua said it would not address specific personnel matters. But Kulach shared the letter with New Jersey 101.5.
"I can't tell you how much I'm going to miss my patients and my work family," Kulach said. "I feel like I'm losing an extension of myself."
The battle between Kulach and supervisors erupted on March 31, Kulach's first day back on the job after recovering from pneumonia. She had brought her own N95 mask to work, since she was not guaranteed the gear unless she'd be dealing with patients who've either tested positive for COVID-19 or were waiting for test results.
In another effort to reduce the transmission risk, Kulach said, she chose to wore gloves at the shared nursing station. Both the imported mask and gloves at the station were not permitted, she was told quickly after starting her shift.
"I figured there would be some sort of excitement that they were getting one of their nurses back to help fight this pandemic," Kulach said.
On April 7, according to Virtua, the hospital system's policy changed to permit staff to bring and wear their own masks, so long as he or she covers it with a Virtua-issued isolation mask, and the mask is discarded at the end of the shift.
Virtua notes some of its protocols "go beyond CDC guidelines," including its policy on N95 masks. But Kulach believes all staff should be recognized as working in direct contact with COVID-19 patients, as the number of cases ramps up and all sections of the hospital, including mother-baby, are reporting positive test results.
Virtua's letter to Kulach said wearing gloves "at all times in the hospital, even while not providing patient care," is an infection control hazard. Kulach insists she was only trying to wear gloves while at the nursing station, not while walking the halls.
Kulach said while she may no longer be on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19, she's "not going to stop fighting" for added protective measures for hospital staff.
"I was willing to take care of my patients," she said. "I just wanted to be protected in doing so, and I wanted the rest of Virtua to be protected as well, or at least have the option to do so."
Douglas Placa, executive director of the healthcare-worker union JNESO, of which Kulach is a member, said "employees like Dawn should be revered, not reprimanded."
“It’s obvious Virtua doesn’t value the extraordinary steps employees like Dawn take to keep themselves healthy and at the bedside. At a time when frontline healthcare workers are at a premium, history will judge Virtua on how they care for their employees," Placa said.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at email@example.com.