2014 News Archive

RN Strikes, Pickets, Leafleting Headline Actions in 16 States Nov. 12 for Improved Ebola and Patient Safety Standards


Registered nurses from California to Maine will hold strikes, pickets, and other actions Wednesday, November 12 in 16 U.S. states and the District of Columbia – with possible support actions globally – as National Nurses United, the largest U.S. organization of nurses steps up the demand for tougher Ebola safety precautions in the nation’s hospitals.

One centerpiece of the actions will be a two-day strike by 18,000 RNs and nurse practitioners at 86 Kaiser Permanente hospitals and clinics who have been protesting the erosion of patient care standards in Kaiser facilities for months, and see Kaiser’s failure to adopt the optimal safeguards for Ebola as symbolic of its overall dismissal of nurses’ concerns about patient care.

Strikes will also affect some 600 RNs at two other California hospitals, Sutter Tracy and Watsonville General Hospital, and 400 RNs at Providence Hospital in Washington D.C.

The two-day California strikes begin Tuesday morning. The Providence walkout is Wednesday.

Actions are planned in California, Florida, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas.

In Massachusetts, where Ebola preparedness and training have been woefully inconsistent and inadequate, and where few hospitals are providing the safe, optimal personal protective equipment that nurses require, members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United will be at two of the state’s busiest commuter rail stations in Boston (South Station) and Worcester (Union Station)  to hand out leaflets to the public about this issue,  seeking their support in signing an online petition calling on Congress and the President to require optimum training and safety precautions for all health care workers to prevent the spread of this deadly disease. 

“As nurses, we provide 90 percent of the care patients receive in our hospitals, and in caring for Ebola patients, nurses will be the caregivers spending the most time providing care to these highly infectious patients,” said Donna Kelly-Williams, RN, President of MNA/NNU. 

“We are joining with nurses across the country on this day of action to call for the training and equipment we know we need to keep ourselves and the public safe.”

In addition to the strikes, nurses will be picketing a number of hospitals (in California, for example, picketing is planned at University of California, Dignity Health and Sutter hospitals) as well as rallies at federal offices and other settings.

“Nurses, who have been willing to stand by their patients whether it's the flu, whether it's Ebola, whether it's cancer, are now being asked to put themselves in harm's way unprotected, unguarded," said NNU Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro, in a press conference announcing the actions.

On Ebola, what NNU is demanding is the optimal personal protective equipment for nurses and other caregivers who interact with Ebola patients. That means 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.

For striking nurses, the failure to secure Ebola safeguards symbolizes what nurses see as a steady erosion in care standards that increasingly put patients as well as nurses and other frontline health workers at risk.

On patient care issues, Kaiser RNs have cited cuts in hospital services at a number of Kaiser hospitals, sharp restrictions on admitting patients for hospital care or early discharge of patients who still need hospitalization.

"In our Emergency Department,” said Kaiser Redwood City RN Sheila Rowe today, “we are holding patients who should be admitted to the hospital.  These elderly patients are kept on uncomfortable gurneys for many hours, unable to rest or sleep because of the noise and influx of patients."

Kaiser RN Katy Roemer told reporters over the weekend that Kaiser nurses are “not seeing the resources we need on a daily basis to provide safe care. We are going out on strike about patient safety issues.”

At Washington’s Providence Hospital, nurses say management has been unwilling to constructively discuss patient care concerns, especially safe staffing and Ebola safety preparations. Providence management routinely and dangerously understaffs nurses, putting patients at risk, the nurses say.

NNU has also repeatedly called on the White House and Congress to mandate all hospitals to meet these standards. “We know from years of experience that these hospitals will meet the cheapest standards, not the most effective precautions. And now we are done talking and ready to act,” DeMoro said.