NEW YORK – Nurses in the United States are joining nurses in Liberia who are going on strike to press officials to enact tougher Ebola safety precautions, improved personal protective equipment, and upgraded Ebola-management training.
Their concerns are bolstered by a World Health Organization report Friday that health-care workers account for an alarming 10 percent of the 4,951 recorded Ebola deaths, with 523 dead from the disease.
On Friday, nurses at Liberia’s largest hospital in the capital, Monrovia, went on strike demanding better pay and equipment to protect them against contracting Ebola, Agence-France Presse reported.
John Tugbeh, spokesman for the strikers at Monrovia’s John F. Kennedy Hospital, told AFP the nurses would not return to work until they are supplied with personal protective equipment, PPE, the hazmat-style suits that guard against infectious diseases.
“From the beginning of the Ebola outbreak we have not had any protective equipment to work with,” Tugbeh said. “As result, so many doctors got infected by the virus. We have to stay home until we get the PPEs.”
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AFP reported the surgical section at JFK Hospital is the only trauma referral center in Liberia, and a long-term dispute would severely damage the country’s capability to respond to the Ebola crisis. The temporary closure of the hospital in July caused the infections and deaths of an unspecified number of hospital health care workers who had been treating Ebola victims.
“We need proper equipment to work with and we need better pay because we are going to risk our lives,” Tugbeh said.
Meanwhile, the National Nurses United, a nationwide union of health care workers headquartered in Oakland, California, has called a two day strike, Nov. 11 and 12, against Kaiser Permanente hospitals and clinics in the San Francisco area.
The nurses’ work stoppage is expected to include 18,000 registered nurses and nurse practitioners at 66 Kaiser Permanente hospitals and clinics in California.
National Nurses United hopes the strike will develop into a nationwide protest against what it believes is insufficient protection for health-care workers who could be required to treat Ebola-infected patients.
“Nurses, who have been willing to stand by the patients, whether it’s the flu, whether it’s Ebola, whether it’s cancer, now they’re being asked to put themselves in harm’s way unprotected, unguarded,” Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, explained to Reuters.
A statement on the National Nurses United website noted Ebola safety actions are tentatively set for Augusta, Georgia.; Bar Harbor, Maine.; Boston; Chicago; Durham, North Carolina; Houston; Kansas City, Kansas; Las Vegas; Lansing, Michigan; Massillon, Ohio; Miami, Florida; St. Louis; St. Paul, Minnesota; St. Petersburg, Florida; and Washington, D.C., as well as a number of California cities.
In San Francisco, Kaiser said in a corporate statement that allegations made by the National Nurses United are “simply untrue,” adding it is currently in contract negotiations with the nurses union and is developing contingency plans to continue operating normally during the strike.
“Kaiser has shown a complete disregard for the safety of nurses and patients in the face of a disease that the World Health Organization calls the ‘most severe acute health emergency in modern times,’” said Deborah Burger, co-president of National Nurses United and a Kaiser registered nurse. “We will not be silent while Kaiser puts all of us, our families, and our communities, at risk.”
The union is demanding that all U.S. hospitals follow the precautionary principle, which holds that absent scientific consensus that a particular risk is not harmful, especially one that can have catastrophic consequences, the highest level of safeguards must be adopted.
The union wants nurses and other caregivers who interact with Ebola patients to be provided the optimal personal protective equipment, including 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. They also want National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-approved powered air purifying respirators with an assigned protection factor of at least 50.
As WND previously reported, at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Ebola Oct. 24, Burger disclosed the results of a survey of more than 3,000 nurses in more than 1,000 hospitals in every U.S. state and the District of Columbia.
The survey found that 68 percent say their hospital has not communicated to them any policy regarding potential admission of patients infected by Ebola, and 84 percent say their hospital has not provided education on Ebola.
“The heroic nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas had to interact with Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan with whatever minimal and woefully inadequate protective equipment was available, at a time when he was unfortunately most vulnerable with diarrhea and vomiting, and therefore most contagious,” Burger said in a prepared statement to the House panel.
“Initially the nurses who interacted with Mr. Duncan wore a non‐impermeable gown front and back, three pairs of gloves, with no taping around wrists, surgical masks, with the option of N‐95s, and face shields. Some supervisors even told the nurses the N‐95 masks were not necessary,” she said.
Burger concluded her testimony explaining that all she was asking President Obama and Congress was: “Not one more Ebola-infected nurse.”
On Oct. 20, reacting to the two nurses contracting Ebola in Texas after treating Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan, the CDC “tightened guidance” for U.S. health-care workers, specifying new procedures for wearing personal protective equipment while requiring that all workers must be properly trained and supervised by a monitor who ensures protocols are followed precisely.