Nurses Rally for Strong Swine Flu Protection

More than 100 nurses, wearing surgical masks and carrying signs that read “Nurses and Patients Demand Swine Flu Protection,” rallied Wednesday at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center to spotlight unsafe practices in treating H1N1 (swine) flu patients and protecting health care workers and other patients.

The nurses, members of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee (CNA/NNOC), also protested the recent firing by UCSF of an RN who blew the whistle on unsafe patient care involving swine flu at the facility.

A recent study by CNA/NNOC of California hospitals uncovered widespread problems, including systemic trouble 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.

In April, a report by the AFL-CIO and several unions revealed that health care workers are at risk because many of the nation’s health care facilities are not prepared to deal with a pandemic.

Last week, a U.S. Government Accountability Office report to Congress warned the United States is still not adequately prepared for a potentially large outbreak of H1N1 this fall. The action came just weeks after a nurse at Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Carmichael died of the H1N1 flu. Says CNA/NNOC co-President Deborah Burger, RN:

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.

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.

The nurse who was fired for speaking out, says CNA/NNOC, recently started working at the facility when she 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.

Earlier this summer, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus a Phase-6 pandemic, its highest level of warning. WHO reported the death toll at 1,154, in data published this week.

Don’t forget to check out the AFL-CIO’s pandemic flu site, which includes vital resources for health care workers, firefighters, educators and more. Recently added to the site are five updated fact sheets:

  • Basic Facts About Pandemic Flu and the H1N1 (Swine) Flu;
  • Protecting Workers During Pandemic Flu;
  • Protecting Health Care Workers During Pandemic Flu;
  • Respirators: One Way to Protect Workers Against Pandemic Flu; and
  • What the Union Can Do: Preparing the Workplace for Pandemic Flu.

Mike Hall: I’m a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. I came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When my collar was still blue, I carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. I’ve also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen me at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. I was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still have the shirts, lost the hair.

This article originally appeared on the AFL-CIO Blog on August 7, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.