“For far too long, Providence nurses have felt disrespected due to poor working conditions and unsafe staffing. Now, management is asking us to care for a possible Ebola patient without optimal protective equipment and training. We’re striking to protect ourselves and our patients,” said Providence RN Rose Farhoudi.
National Nurses Organizing Committee, an NNU affiliate, represents 400 Providence RNs who will be part of the strike and NNU day of action. Thousands of other RNs will be on strike in California on November 12, joined by nurses from coast to coast who will be engaging in a variety of Ebola protest actions.
"We have raised serious concerns about safe staffing and clinical practices but we have received no serious response from Providence executives. Patients’ lives are at stake,” said Providence RN Christianah Adepoju. “We need to take this action in order for Providence Hospital, and Ascension Health, to take our concerns about health, safety, and equity seriously."
For confronting the Ebola threat, Providence emergency department RNs report the hospital has refused to provide them with the full-body Hazmat suits that meet the ASTM standards for blood and viral infection and NIOSH-approved air respirators to keep nurses safe when treating an Ebola patient. Providence nurses have already treated two patients who had Ebola-like symptoms and who had traveled to West Africa but who ultimately were diagnosed with other illnesses.
Providence management routinely and dangerously understaffs nurses, putting patients at risk, the nurses said. Due to poor staffing, poor pay and intolerable working conditions, Providence has been unable to adequately recruit and retain bedside nurses, which is dangerous for those seeking care at the hospital.
Nurses voted last week by a 6 to 1 margin to reject hospital executive’s stonewalling at the bargaining table and unwillingness to take nurses’ concerns seriously, and to authorize a strike.
The strike is scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. on November 12 , ending at 7 a.m. on November 13.
With a 10-day advance notice, the hospital has time to postpone elective surgeries, transfer out any patients as needed, and make other preparations. Providence is owned by Ascension Health, the largest U.S. Catholic hospital system. As of June 30, 2014, Ascension reported total net assets of almost $19 billion and annual profits of $1.8 billion.
In addition to Providence, 18,000 RNs and nurse practitioners who work in 66 Kaiser Permanente hospitals and clinics in California will strike on November 11 and 12. Ebola safety actions are also tentatively set for Augusta, Ga., Bar Harbor, Me., Boston, Chicago, Durham, N.C., Houston, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Lansing, Mi., Massilon, Oh., Miami, St. Louis, St. Paul, Mn., St. Petersburg, Fl., and Washington DC, as well as other California locations. Additional details on exact sites of the actions will be announced soon.
NNU says it anticipates actions in many other states as well, as nurses are contacting NNU across the country and it is highly likely the national day of action will spread widely.
“With the refusal of hospitals across the country to take seriously the need to establish the highest safety precautions for when an Ebola patient walks in the door, and the failure of our elected leaders in Washington to compel them to do so, America’s nurses say they have to make their voices heard a little louder,” said NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro.
“If nurses are on the outside, it tells you there must be something wrong on the inside. What’s wrong on the inside is the cavalier attitude of most U.S. hospitals who would rather continue to put their nurses, other frontline healthcare workers, patients, and the public to the risk of exposure to Ebola than to take the steps necessary to ensure proper safety standards,” DeMoro said.
“The hospitals are willing to gamble with the lives and safety of RNs and other health workers. But we are not,” said DeMoro. “If registered nurses, the people who will be caring for Ebola patients and are at the most risk, are not protected from the Ebola virus, no one is protected. Stopping Ebola in our hospitals is the only way to stop Ebola in the U.S.”
What NNU is demanding is that all U.S. hospitals follow the precautionary principle in safety measures for Ebola, 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.
Specifically, that means for nurses and other caregivers who interact with Ebola patients are 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, and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-approved powered air purifying respirators with an assigned protection factor of at least 50.
Second, that all facilities provide continuous, rigorous interactive training for RNs and other health workers who might encounter an Ebola patient, that includes practice putting on and taking off the hazmat suits where some of the greatest risk of infection can occur.
NNU has also repeatedly called on the White House and Congress to direct all hospitals to meet these standards.
National Nurses United is the nation’s largest direct-care registered nurses union, representing 185,000 members, including 4,400 RNs in the District of Columbia.