Nurses to Strike to Protest Hospital Swine Flu Safety Gaps

Some 16,000 registered nurses at 39 hospitals at three Catholic hospital chains in California and Nevada will join a 1-day strike and picket October 30 to protest poor readiness by many hospitals to confront the H1N1 pandemic, the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee (CNA/NNOC) announced.

The strike will affect hospitals across California from San Bernardino and Long Beach in the south to Eureka and Redding in the north, and include major facilities in Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, Bakersfield, Stockton and the Central Coast. Additionally, nurses will picket major facilities in Las Vegas and Reno, Nev.

Central to the walkout is concern over the failure of the hospital chains to assure adequate safety precautions for patients, their families, nurses and other health care employees for the escalating H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic. Many hospitals continue to do a poor job, the RNs say, at isolating patients with H1N1 symptoms and other steps to limit contagion, or provide sufficient fit-tested N95 respirators and other protective gear for health care workers and patients.

According to CNA/NNOC, updated Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations re-affirmed guidelines for isolation and safety equipment and urged hospitals to avoid policies that encourage employees to work when sick, another problem in many hospitals.

CNA/NNOC wants hospitals to formally adopt all CDC and Cal-OSHA guidelines to make them enforceable by CNA/NNOC contract provisions assuring the highest safety measures are met, are uniform, and consistently applied throughout the systems.

Staffing Worries

Complicating swine flu preparedness, RNs say many hospitals fall far short in assuring proper RN staffing as required under a California law requiring minimum, safe RN-to-patient staffing ratios. CNA/NNOC proposes RN monitors to assure compliance with the law in all hospital units.

"Our hospitals are not adhering to the safe staffing ratios law," said Allen Fitzpatrick, RN, who works at St. Mary's Medical Center in San Francisco. "We need someone to stand up for safe RN-to-patient staffing."

"We have a comprehensive staffing proposal on the table because no matter how much care a patient requires our hospital won't add nurses and has eliminated our aides," said Susan Johnson, an Obstetrics RN at St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka.

RNs also want to stop the practice of some of the hospitals that mandate RNs to "float" – work in clinical areas outside their expertise, training and orientation – a practice they claim puts patients at risk. Additionally, the RNs are insisting that hospitals withdraw efforts to reduce health care benefits by shifting more costs to nurses and reducing coverage options. In several areas, hospitals also are demanding a wage freeze.

"As nurses, we see the consequences when employers reduce coverage, it's disgraceful to see our hospitals taking the same step," said Debra Amour RN at Seton Medical Center in Daly City. "Such demands, would also sharply undermine the ability of the hospitals to keep nurses at the bedside and recruit new RNs."

CNA/NNOC represents 86,000 registered nurses in all 50 states.

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