TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WIAT) — Registered nurses at the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center held a rally Monday to share their concerns about patient and RN safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The rally was announced by the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United. The event took place from noon to 1 p.m. at the VA on Loop Road.

In a statement sent Monday, the NNOC/NNU said RNs at the Tuscaloosa VA have told them they are deeply concerned that management is not notifying nurses when they are exposed to COVID-19 and that management is forcing nurses to return to work prematurely after they have been exposed to or tested positive for the virus and that the lack of notification and the failure to adequately test nurses prior to requiring their return to work jeopardizes their health and well-being.

“We have had nurses who have tested positive for COVID-19 being told by hospital management that they need to return to work, or they will be disciplined, even though those nurses have tested positive for the virus,” nurse Juanetta Jemison was quoted in the NNOC/NNU statement. “We know that best practices dictate that nurses must test negative at least twice with a 24-hour period between tests before they can safely return to work. No one should be forced to choose between putting their patients’ safety at risk or their own safety or livelihood at risk. We are calling on the VA management to work with us so we can ensure that our patients are safe.”

Through the rally, nurses will also be calling for transparency in the hiring process as there are concerns that nurses of color are not being considered for opportunities for advancement. They are concerned that RNs of color are often in front-line roles at the facility, which puts them most at risk for exposure to COVID-19.

The Department of Veteran Affairs released a statement following the rally:

The comments from National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United lack credibility, considering that during the pandemic, Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center employees have provided care to 15 COVID inpatients and 84 COVID outpatients while adhering to safety practices that have limited its current COVID employee infection rate to 0.3 percent. The pandemic tested America’s health care infrastructure like few events have in anyone’s living memory, and the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center passed that test because it worked together as a team. Union bosses should be praising this teamwork rather than trying to sow division.

Department of Veterans Affairs