Nurses Demand Stronger Swine Flu Safety Protections

Aug. 5 — More than a hundred CNA/NNOC registered nurses rallied on the steps of the University of California San Francisco Medical Center today with a simple message for the public: California and the nation’s hospitals are not prepared to handle the H1N1 influenza, known as swine flu, when it hits the country full force this fall, and frontline registered nurses, other healthcare workers, patients, and the public are all in serious jeopardy.


The rally came on the heels of several major swine flu events alarming to registered nurses. Last week, Sacramento registered nurse Karen Hays became the first healthcare worker to die of the virus. She had been a fit, 51-year-old athlete, and her family suspects she was exposed while at work. Also last week, a registered nurse at UCSF claims she was not informed a patient she was treating had swine flu, then was fired for speaking up about swine flu after she began exhibiting symptoms. Last month, registered nurses at Sutter Solano Medical Center filed a complaint with Cal-OSHA about the hospital’s failure to provide and fit them with proper N-95 respiratory masks though RNs are caring for swine flu patients.

“The hospitals in California don’t have plans, they don’t know what they’re doing,” said Jill Furillo, RN and CNA/NNOC’s Southern California director.

Preliminary surveys by CNA/NNOC and interviews with RNs reveal that hospitals lack consistent policies to deal with swine flu, and even if they do have policies, employees are not educated about following them or provided and fitted with the proper equipment, such as N-95 masks, to do so.

At UCSF, Erin Carrera, a recovery room RN, said that coworkers are having trouble finding masks when they need them. Also, RNs are not always explicitly informed about a patient who likely has swine flu. “When patients are coming up from the emergency department, there are certain symptoms that should automatically trigger they be put in isolation,” said Carrera. “But that’s not happening.”

James Darby, RN and chief nurse representative at UCSF, said it was appalling that hospitals are actually punishing RNs who are speaking up about being inadequately prepared. “If you complain, if you speak out, if you speak up about adequate materials that we need to take care of our patients, if you speak up about more staffing to take care of our patients, UC’s message is that they will retaliate,” said Darby at the lunchtime rally. “My message to UC is that you may retaliate, but the nurses will not stop advocating for our patients.”

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