More than 100 registered nurses from across California will rally in San Francisco Wednesday to protest gaps by California hospitals in safety preparation for the H1N1 pandemic, the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee announced today.
The nurses will protest the recent firing by UCSF of an RN who blew the whistle on unsafe patient care involving swine flu at their facility, as well as wider problems that a CNA/NNOC preliminary survey of California hospitals has uncovered, including systemic problems with safety gear for nurses and infection control procedures for patients, as well as an emerging pattern of retribution against nurses who speak out about unsafe care.
WHAT: 100+ nurses in scrubs
and masks protest swine flu dangers
WHEN: Wednesday, August 5, 12:30 p.m.
WHERE: UCSF Campus, main entrance to medical center, 505 Parnassus,
The protest follows the first death of a nurse due to swine flu last week, a 51-year-old marathon runner in excellent health, who worked in a Sacramento hospital, as well as a General Accounting Office report to Congress this week that warned the U.S. is still not adequately prepared for a worse outbreak of H1N1 this fall.
"Hospitals across California--and possibly the entire country--are putting registered nurses and other front-line caregivers at risk by inadequately preparing for this pandemic," said CNA/NNOC co-president Deborah Burger, RN.
"If hospitals do not take urgent precautions to reverse this lack of preparation, we may see our health care facilities become vectors for infections. That is especially worrisome for hospital patients who already have compromised immune systems, and our nurses who may be unable to respond because of their own sickness," Burger said.
On Wednesday, CNA/NNOC will call for broader public awareness of the fragility of the public safety net, and legislative action to assure proper safety conditions in California hospitals and protections for RNs and other healthcare workers.
CNA/NNOC is also proposing contract language in represented hospitals to assure provision of appropriate equipment, full adherence to current Centers for Disease Control guidelines and protocols, and other measures to protect nurses and patients.
One immediate cause of the protest is the firing of a nurse who had recently started work at the facility when was exposed to the virus in June. While still suffering from the infection, she protested to management about inadequate hospital safety standards that she felt contributed to her illness. Ultimately, the RN was fired in what CNA/NNOC calls retaliation against a swine flu whistle-blower.
Concurrently, CNA/NNOC has been surveying preparedness in a number of hospitals and will report a series of troubling patterns.
Unclear policies on how to respond to swine flu
Policies falling short of CDC guidelines--including some facilities lacking N95 masks, others re-using them after contact with infected patients
Lack of consistent isolation procedures for swine flu-infected patients
Retaliation for whistle-blowing
Lack of sick leave for infected nurses, and no presumptive eligibility of worker's compensation for nurses who fall ill due to swine flu
Among the preliminary reports from working nurses:
At Sutter Solano hospital in Vallejo, Calif., nurses were refused access to adequate N-95 respirator masks, prompting RNs to file a complaint currently under investigation by Cal-OSHA.
Nurses throughout California widely report that swine flu patients are being placed in non-negative pressure isolation rooms.
Nurses at Kaiser-Oakland report that the facility has not properly fit tested their N-95 masks.
At Long Beach Memorial, RNs report that five RNs were infected after being told to reuse masks.
Nurses at Mills-Peninsula Hospital in San Mateo report that they are not being notified in a timely manner when they have been exposed to a patient with swine flu.
RNs at Tenet Healthcare's Sierra Vista Hospital in San Luis Obispo report having no access to N-95 masks on most units.
These problems mirror what the GAO reported July 29th in Influenza Pandemic: Gaps in Pandemic Planning and Preparedness Need to Be Addressed: "Further actions are needed to address the capacity to respond to and recover from an influenza pandemic, which will require additional capacity in patient treatment space, and the acquisition and distribution of medical and other critical supplies. . ."
"The recent GAO report should be a wake-up call to America's hospitals, but right now nurses and patients are being put at risk by these gaps in preparedness, and we need urgent changes in policy and safety precautions," Burger said.