A patient health and safety survey of 190 American hospitals from coast to coast compiled by registered nurses in eight different states finds that a disturbing number of U.S. healthcare facilities are not prepared for the coming novel H1N1influenza pandemic, according to results released today by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee.
The data reflects a survey conducted over the past four weeks by RNs in hospitals in Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
What the RNs reported are wide gaps in safety gear, infection control training, and post-exposure procedures. Among key findings:
— At more than one-fourth of the hospitals, nurses cite inadequate isolation of swine flu patients, increasing the risk of infection to others.
— Nurses at 15 percent of hospitals do not have access to the proper respirator masks, exposing nurses and patients to infection; at up to 40 percent of the hospitals, nurses are expected to re-use masks, in violation of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
— At 18 percent of the hospitals, RNs report that nurses have become infected; one Sacramento, Calif. RN has already died.
CNA/NNOC is calling on all hospitals to adhere to the highest standard of protection for patients and nurses to combat the expected onslaught of new cases this fall and winter, and urging legislators to strengthen public protections.
"These continuing problems increase the risk that many hospitals will become vectors for infection, with inadequate patient protections leading to a spread of the pandemic among other patients, their friends, family, and caregivers, and the surrounding community," warned Deborah Burger, RN, CNA/NNOC co-president. "What we’re hearing from around the country is dangerous to patient health and safety, but with smart and clinically appropriate leadership we can fix policies in time for the upcoming pandemic."
Among other findings:
— At 19 percent of the hospitals all or some appropriate N95 respirator masks were not "fitted" to ensure their effectiveness against the virus.
— More than 1 in 5 (22 percent of the facilities) do not have enough masks, say nurses.
— Nurses at fewer than half of facilities report that they have been adequately trained on H1N1 issues, including identification of infected patients, and procedures for caring for these patients.
To help combat these problems, CNA/NNOC has called for:
— Minimizing infection of hospital patients and workers by strict adherence to the highest standard of infection control procedures, including identification and isolation with appropriate ventilation of infected patients.
— All hospital workers and visitors must be provided with appropriate protection gear at the highest government standards, including N95 respirator masks or better for all who enter the isolation room of a confirmed or suspected H1N1 patient.
— Any RN who is unable to work due to contracting a communicable or infectious disease identified or treated in his or her hospital/clinic shall be guaranteed sick leave, not face disciplinary action, and shall be presumptively eligible for workers’ compensation.
— Implement a moratorium on any closures of emergency rooms, layoffs of direct healthcare personnel, and reductions of hospital beds.
— Federal guidelines for protection must be developed that are consistent across agencies.
— Disposable respirator masks must not be re-used. In the event of a demonstrated national mask shortage, facilities should adhere to government recommendations on mask conservation.