WASHINGTON – With concern escalating across the U.S. about the threat of a wider Ebola outbreak, National Nurses United today called on President Obama to “invoke his executive authority” to order all U.S. hospitals to meet the highest “uniform, national standards and protocols” in order to “safely protect patients, all healthcare workers, and the public.”
The request, send in a letter to the President, came on a day in which NNU, the largest U.S. organization of nurses, hosted a national call-in conference in which 11,500 RNs from across the U.S. joined to discuss what steps should be taken to confront a virulent disease that the World Health Organization has termed the most significant health crisis in modern history.
On the call, RNs from California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon, and Texas described widespread concerns in their hospitals about inadequate preparedness at a time at least two nurses have been tested positive for the Ebola virus in a hospital where one patient infected by the disease has died.
The call came just hours after NNU released a statement by RNs who work at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas voicing frustration and concern over what they viewed as a lack of preparation and training at their hospital, the first in the U.S. to see, first a patient with Ebola who subsequently died, and now an RN who has been infected with the virus.
In the statement, the Texas RNs described confusion in the hospital over policies in responding to patients with Ebola, inadequate advance training and availability of proper personal protective equipment, and changing guidelines. In the end, the nurses, said they felt “unsupported, unprepared and deserted to handle the situation on their own.”
“Sadly, the problems expressed by the heroic Texas Health Presbyterian RNs was predictable in our fragmented, uncoordinated private healthcare system, and it mirrors concerns we’ve heard from nurses across the U.S.,” said NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro.
It is the circumstances in Dallas, which mirror the concerns nurses across the U.S. have been expressing, both on the call and via an online NNU survey filled out by more than 2,500 nurses that have prompted NNU to call on President Obama to mandate improved safety standards in U.S. health facilities.
“Not one more patient, nurse, or healthcare worker should be put at risk due to a lack of health care facility preparedness,” DeMoro said in the letter to President Obama. “The United States should be setting the example on how to contain and eradicate the Ebola virus.”
The letter also states:
“Every healthcare employer must be directed to follow the Precautionary Principle and institute the following:
“First, optimal protective equipment for Ebola that meets the highest standards used by the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
“Second, fill body hazmat suits that meet the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) F1670 standard for blood penetration, the ASTM F1671 standard for viral penetration, and that leave no skin exposed or unprotected and National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety-approved powered air purifying respirators with an assigned protection factor of at least 50 – or a higher standard as appropriate.
“Third, there shall be at least two direct care registered nurses caring for each Ebola patient with additional RNs assigned as needed based on the direct care RN’s professional judgment with no additional patient care assignments.
“Fourth, there will be continuous interactive training with the RNs whoa re exposed to patients. There will also be continuous updated training and education for all RNs that is responsive to the changing nature of the disease. This would entail continuous interactive training and expertise from facilities where state of the art disease containment is occurring.
“Fifth, if the employer has a program with standards that exceed those used by the University of Nebraska Medical Center, the higher standard will be used. The Ebola pandemic and the exposure of health care workers to the virus represent a clear and present danger to public health.
“We know that without these mandates to health care facilities we are putting registered nurses, physicians and other healthcare workers at extreme risk,” the statement by the nurses read. “They are our first line of defense. We would not send soldiers to the battlefield without armor and weapons.
“Not one more patient, nurse, or healthcare worker should be put at risk due to a lack of health care facility preparedness,” the NNU statement says. “The United States should be setting the example on how to contain and eradicate the Ebola virus.
“Nothing short of your mandate that optimal standards apply is acceptable to the nurses of this nation,” the letter from DeMoro to the President concludes.
Photo: Emergency services teams at the home of the second nurse diagnosed with Ebola on the night of Oct. 14. Twitter/@dallaspiosana, courtesy of AP