Nurses Union Calls for Stronger Protections for Patients and Nurses
Thousands of nurses represented by the California Nurses Association rallied in Oakland November 12 to call on hospitals to provide adequate staffing levels and improved safeguards in the face of the deadly Ebola virus. Photos by Paul Burton.
Thousands of nurses represented by the California Nurses Association rallied in Oakland November 12 to call on hospitals to provide adequate staffing levels and improved safeguards in the face of the deadly Ebola virus. The CNA held a two-day strike November 12 and 13 that affected nearly 20,000 registered nurses at 86 Kaiser Permanente hospitals and clinics, a Sutter hospital in Tracy, and Watsonville Community Hospital.
RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association and National Nurses United, said that CNA and NNU members were doing important work dealing with Ebola patients to stop the spread of the disease. “The nurse in Dallas who was infected could have been any one of you,” she said, adding that many hospitals still lack full-body protective suits and sufficient training to deal with potential Ebola cases.
“Nurses, who have been willing to stand by the patients whether it’s the flu, whether it’s Ebola, whether it’s cancer, are now being asked to put themselves in harm’s way unprotected, unguarded,” DeMoro said.
The striking nurses said the failure to secure Ebola safeguards symbolizes what nurses see as a steady erosion in care standards that increasingly put patients as well as nurses and other frontline health workers at risk.
Jennifer Holm, a pediatric nurse at Watsonville Community Hospital, commented that, “Ebola is a symptom of the pandemic of profitability taking precedence over patient care.” She said she has seen an erosion of conditions for nurses over the nine years she has worked at the hospital, which has seen three strikes in the last year. “We put patient care proposals on the table, and we are here to rally for stronger patient care,” Holm said. She said nurses are exposed to life-threatening diseases like Ebola or the H1N1 virus but that protections are not adequate.
Jennifer Holm, a pediatric nurse at Watsonville Community Hospital, said, “Ebola is a symptom of the pandemic of profitability taking precedence over patient care.”
Nurses from Sutter said they had taken their concerns about hazmat protections to the hospital chain’s CEO and have pushed hard for adequate staffing, personal protective equipment, and respect. NNU is calling for optimal personal protective equipment for nurses and other caregivers who interact with Ebola patients. Those include “full-body hazmat suits that meet the American Society for Testing and Materials F1670 standard for blood penetration, F1671 standard for viral penetration, and that leave no skin exposed or unprotected, and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-approved powered air purifying respirators with an assigned protection factor of at least 50.” The nurses also demand that all facilities provide continuous, rigorous interactive training for RNs and other health workers who might encounter an Ebola patient.
The Washington Post reported that, “Yet nurses don’t have the kind of equipment or the training they need to deal with Ebola—and potential Ebola—patients. In a survey by NNU of more than 3,000 nurses at more than 1,000 hospitals, 85 percent said that their facilities were not prepared to take care of Ebola patients and that nurses had not been trained adequately.”
At the end of the rally in Oakland nurses placed their substandard N-95 masks that many hospitals provide in boxes to be mailed to the White House, as part of the demand for increased federal action to mandate hospitals to implement the optimal standards.
Kaiser RNs cited cuts in hospital services at a number of Kaiser hospitals, sharp restrictions on admitting patients for hospital care or early discharge of patients who still need hospitalization. “In our Emergency Department, we are holding patients who should be admitted to the hospital,” said Kaiser Redwood City RN Sheila Rowe. She said Kaiser nurses are “not seeing the resources we need on a daily basis to provide safe care. We are going out on strike about patient safety issues.”
“The lack of concern for nurses and patients in a world where corporations have taken over our community health care has been magnified during this deadly Ebola crisis,” said NNU’s DeMoro. She said Kaiser Permanente made $1.3 billion in profit, but “wouldn’t buy hazmat suits and put protocols in place to protect nurses.”
DeMoro said, “It’s time to change priorities, to have Wall Street pay its fair share and for nurses to be the decision makers. Thousands of nurses are standing up in Oakland, in DC, Dallas, North Carolina—from California to Florida, from the Philippines to Ireland. Nurses can use their power and change the health care system.”
“If nurses had not taken to the air waves, to the streets and to the legislatures, there would have been inaction on Ebola. Everyone passed the buck. The Centers for Disease Control had no power, and Ebola is the latest in health threats, there will be more to come. Nurses are demanding patient safety. They are heroes. Hospitals should be forced to spend the money on patient safety that they spend on public relations,” DeMoro said.
- Paul Burton