As California goes, so goes the nation?
That’s what members of National Nurses United, or NNU, are hoping as California officials announced mandatory requirements for hospitals to provide protective gear and training for nurses and other health-care workers at risk of exposure to the deadly Ebola virus.
These new regulations, the most advanced in the nation, carry civil penalties if ignored, and go much further to keep nurses safe than the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Concern over Ebola’s potential danger skyrocketed after two registered nurses at a Dallas hospital contracted the virus while caring for a patient who later died. Although both RNs were treated successfully, a physician who had been working in Sierra Leone died of Ebola on Monday after being flown to Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha for treatment.
California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal-OSHA, issued the new mandates after 18,000 nurses went on strike Tuesday and Wednesday to draw attention to the dangers faced by nurses who are on the front lines of care for both confirmed and suspected Ebola patients.
That strike was part of a nationwide effort by around 100,000 nurses who participated in a “Day of Action.”
RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of NNU, told me that the strike was “instrumental” in getting California to provide a model for the nation in requiring the optimum protection for nurses.
She, along with 60 nurses, met with California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on Oct. 21 to discuss their concerns about safety in the workplace with the threat of Ebola. He understood the situation immediately, DeMoro said. “He got this — and he was appalled.”
Members of NNU will hold a news conferences Tuesday in front of the Department of Labor in Washington to outline the steps they’re taking to request that the rest of the country follow the model set by California.
“Ebola doesn’t know borders,” DeMoro said, and with the upcoming holiday season and more people traveling, the risk of the virus spreading increases. “We don’t want hysteria, but we need a realistic discussion.”
The new regulations in California require full-body protective suits and powered air-purifying respirators that meet certain standards for blood and viral penetration. Those suits must be available for any staff member caring for a suspected or confirmed Ebola patient as well as for employees who clean contaminated areas and who help staff members with the removal of contaminated protective gear.
Regular hands-on training is also required, and whistleblower protection is provided as well so that any employee who reports violations will be protected from retaliation.
One somewhat surprising inclusion in Cal-OSHA’s new regulations states that the Ebola virus can be spread through “aerosol transmission of fluids from coughing,” although officials in the past have stressed that it’s spread by direct contact with bodily fluids.
DeMoro finds the “callous disregard” from hospitals and even some physicians for the safety of nurses “outrageous” and “immoral.”
“We’re gambling with nurses’ lives,” she said.