Swine Flu Conditions Have Nurses' Union Ready to Strike

Sarah Kearns, for HealthLeaders Media , October 22, 2009

The California Nurses Association announced this week a potential one-day strike on October 30 because of hospitals' lack of protection against the swine flu for its members. The strike would involve more than 16,000 registered nurses at more than 30 hospitals, targeting the San Francisco-based Catholic West hospitals in California and Nevada.

Nurses have been trying to resolve contract issues with the hospital system regarding pay, healthcare benefits, and adopting state guidelines for responding to H1N1 flu. Earlier this year, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health published the state guidelines that the nurses wish the hospital system would adopt. Specifically, they want N95 protective masks distributed to nurses and isolating infected patients.

Also, in the negotiations, is putting a stop to "floating," which is when nurses are assigned to areas outside of their expertise. This could mean asking a labor and delivery nurse to cover the emergency room.

Concern for the nurses' own safety from H1N1 flu has risen since the death of one of its members this past summer. The nurse died of a severe respiratory infection, pneumonia, and H1N1. The nurses hope to establish safety procedures around the U.S. with the contract negotiations.

Hospitals that could potentially be affected by the strike include California Hospital Medical Center, St. Vincent Medical Center, Glendale Memorial Hospital and Health Center, St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, Community Hospital of San Bernardino, and St. Bernardine Medical Center in San Bernardino. Nurses are also planning to picket two Catholic Healthcare West hospitals in Nevada.

Sarah Kearns is an editor for HCPro in the Quality and Patient Safety Group. Contact Sarah at skearns@hcpro.com.

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