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In Policy Reversal, Kansas City’s Children’s Mercy Allows Workers To Wear Face Masks

Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
After telling workers they were not allowed to continuously wear masks to protect from the coronavirus, Children's Mercy Hospital reversed course and will even allow home-made masks.

In a major reversal after an outcry from workers, Children’s Mercy Hospital announced Wednesday that it will allow all of its employees to continuously wear face masks during shifts for protection from the coronavirus.

In addition, the hospital said it will begin screening workers on Thursday, according to an email obtained by KCUR. As of March 31, the hospital had tested 255 employees, three of whom were positive for the virus, Children’s Mercy announced on its website.

“The decision to screen all employees ensures we’re free of COVID-19 symptoms in order to better protect our patients, families and colleagues from incidental exposure while at CM,” the email said.

The hospital had also tested 266 patients, three of whom were positive, according to the website.

Just last week, Children’s Mercy barred workers from wearing face masks and said they faced disciplinary action if they defied the order. The hospital defended the action, saying it was based on best science and a potential shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPE, as the numbers of infections grow in the region.

Employees told KCUR that the decision left them demoralized and fearful.

In the email sent to employees Wednesday, Children’s Mercy said medical-grade face masks will be available to all “frontline caregivers who interact with patients and family members.”

Employees who don’t work with patients will also be allowed to wear masks, even ones brought from home or those donated by the community, the email said. Both types of masks had been prohibited last week.

The about-face comes as all hospitals face a shortage of PPE and other equipment amid often-changing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This week, Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC’s director, told NPR that new data showing infected people who are symptom-free may lead the agency to recommend the use of masks by ordinary citizens.

In a virtual town hall aired for Children’s Mercy employees on Tuesday, Dr. Rob Lane, executive vice president and physician-in-chief, said they expect a steady increase in cases with a peak occurring in June. The goal is to get the right protection for everyone, Lane said.

“The most important statement that we have is No. 1, we absolutely believe and trust in the science, the data and our experts,” he said.

Leaders were aware that many of the hospital’s workers are very scared, Lane said.

“That’s normal and that’s expected and that’s human,” he said, “and frankly, I’m scared, too.”

Peggy Lowe is an investigative reporter at KCUR and the Marketplace hub reporter. She's on Twitter at @peggyllowe.

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