Strikes by the California Nurses Association (CNA) and National Nurses United (NNU) occurred at 86 different Kaiser Permanente hospitals and clinics throughout Northern California as well as at Dignity Health Hospitals from the Bay Area to Southern California. Protests by registered nurses at University of California medical centers at UC San Francisco and UC San Diego also took place on Wednesday.
According to registered nurse and CNA/NNU spokesperson Liz Jacobs, the groups hope to call attention to the “inadequate” preparedness in treating victims of the Ebola virus.
Jacobs said the Oakland demonstration in particular was an effort to put pressure on the California state government to force hospitals to meet the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) standards, which would provide healthcare workers with the proper protective equipment and training to care for patients with infectious diseases.
“We are fighting now to get the regulations by OSHA mandated by the state government,” Jacobs said.
According to Jacobs, hospitals have been giving healthcare workers “faulty” equipment for treating infectious diseases like Ebola.
“What we get now is inadequate,” Jacobs said. “We believe in full protection — head to foot and no skin exposed — with a respirator, not just a mask.”
Clinical nurse at the UC San Diego Medical Center emergency department Michael Jackson said he attended a rally at UCSD on Wednesday, in which roughly 100 nurses participated in.
Jackson said the top priority is for hospitals to provide optimal levels of protection to ensure the safety of health care workers.
“The PPE, which is personal protective equipment, should be impermeable to viruses and blood or body fluids,” Jackson said. “You have to take care of your most valuable assets, and your valuable investments and that’s your front line health care workers.”
According to Jackson, the nurses also require more instruction for treating Ebola patients.
“We can always stand to have more education,” Jackson said. “Education that is hands on, though. Not education that’s posted up as a flier in a bathroom on the wall that says, ‘Here, read this.’ No, we want robust hands-on training that involves a dialogue between the experts teaching the class and the nurses.”
UC San Francisco Medical Center nurse Maureen Dugan said she participated in the Oakland strike, and her hospital was designated as an “Ebola center” amongst the UC medical centers.
Dugan said the UCSF Medical Center is not ready to take on any infectious diseases.
“We’re on the third week after the announcement that we’re an Ebola center and we’re not prepared,” Dugan said. “We don’t have the training or the readily protective equipment we need.”
According to Dugan, the nurses that are designated to treat patients with the infectious disease are few in number and have yet to complete training.
“There’s a very small number of IC nurses that are just beginning to receive training,” Dugan said. “Who’s to say that enough [nurses] would be on duty if an Ebola patient were to show up?”
Dugan also said the training they have received has been minimal and inadequate, considering the complexity of the protocols for using the equipment.
“The procedure to put on and take off medical equipment is very precise,” Dugan said. “The nurses have only received one session of this training.”
According to Dugan, the UCSF Medical Center is one of many hospitals under-investing in worker and patient safety in the name of reducing costs.
“Hospitals are not wanting to spend money [on the equipment or training]. They are protecting their profit,” Dugan said. “They are hoping that we will never be faced with any infectious disease.”
Dugan said her participation in the strike was part of a call to have the state government take measures to require hospitals to invest more financial resources on equipment and training.
“[Hospitals] are going to find the cheapest way to spend on these things,” Dugan said. “We want state regulations that will force these hospitals to meet the optimal standards.”
According to Jacobs, striking is a necessary means of achieving change in the best interests of their patients.
“We are patient advocates and we are obligated,” Jacobs said. “Sometimes [nurses] have to take that beyond the walls of the hospital and into the streets.”