For weeks, hospital workers in the Kansas City area have been warning that the lack of adequate personal protective equipment was putting them at risk when treating COVID-19 patients.
This week, one of those workers, Celia Yap Banago, a registered nurse who had worked at Research Medical Center for more than 40 years, died after caring for a COVID-19 patient, according to the National Nurses United union.
“It’s horrible to find out that she didn’t make it,” says Charlene Carter, a registered nurse who worked at Research with Banago for seven years.
Banago died on Tuesday evening. She was scheduled to retire next week.
Carter says that she and Banago in late March treated a patient who was later found to have COVID-19. She says they treated the patient without N95 masks or any of the specialized protective equipment typically used when treating COVID-19 patients in intensive care units and other facilities.
“I just feel like things may have gone differently had we had the proper protective equipment that we needed to care for our patient that night,” Carter says.
Carter remembers Banago as a five-foot “fireball,” who taught her to speak out on behalf of patients.
“She was so funny,” Carter says. “She always had a way to make us laugh.”
Since mid-March, health care workers in the area have raised alarms about short supplies of personal protective equipment, such as masks, gowns and face shields, and many hospitals in the Kansas City area have acknowledged taking unusual steps to conserve protective supplies that are meant to be disposable.
HCA Midwest Health, which operates Research Medical Center, Menorah Medical Center, Overland Park Regional Medical Center and other hospitals in the Kansas City area, did not respond to media inquiries on Wednesday.
In recent statements, however, spokesperson Christine Hamele, wrote that HCA Midwest Health was conserving equipment to prevent shortages, but she denied the hospitals lacked needed safety equipment.
“We currently have adequate supplies of PPE, and are doing everything in our power to ensure we continue to have enough to protect our colleagues as they provide care to patients,” Hamele wrote.
On March 30, HCA Midwest Health began requiring masks in patient areas for all staff working in its hospitals, including specialized N95 masks when appropriate for treating COVID-19 patients.
However, Pascaline Muhindura, a nurse and union representative who has been treating COVID-19 patients at Research Medical Center, says there have been no significant improvements in the availability of safety supplies in recent weeks.
“We have not seen any difference in the way they were being rationed – N95s, respirators, surgical masks or gowns,” Muhindura says.
National Nurses United is holding a candlelight vigil to honor Banago on Thursday, April 23 at 8 p.m. at Research Medical Center.