National Nurses United survey: Hospitals, health care employers ‘unprepared’ for COVID-19
Bonnie Castillo, RN, executive director of National Nurses United, speaks at a Mar. 5 press conference detailing the results of an NNU survey showing hospitals and other health care employers are woefully unprepared to train staff and provide supplies for the coronavirus outbreak. | NNU

OAKLAND, Calif. (PAI)—The nation’s hospitals and health care facilities are “unprepared” to combat and contain the spread of the coronavirus, registered nurses are telling their union, National Nurses United.

In an ongoing survey of RNs—6,500 of them and counting—only 44% say their employers gave them information on how to recognize coronavirus victims, only 29% have plans to isolate those sufferers, and another “23% don’t know if there is a plan.”

The situation at health care facilities is so bad that NNU petitioned the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on March 5 to declare an emergency.

That declaration would let OSHA order the hospitals and health care facilities to implement prior plans to protect workers and patients from the spread of the virus, which has already killed 14 people in the U.S. Many were elderly patients in a nursing home in Washington state.

The facilities developed those plans years ago after an OSHA order, says Dr. David Michaels, a public health specialist who headed OSHA all eight years of the Democratic Obama administration. But it needs the emergency declaration to order their adoption, he previously told People’s World in a prior telephone interview.

The coronavirus has sickened more than 100,000 people worldwide since it emerged in Hubei province in China late last year. Millions remain quarantined around the globe as the virus spreads, with the impact being felt hard outside China as well—in South Korea, Iran, Italy, and other countries.

But the GOP Trump administration is so far downplaying the threat to the U.S., experts told both Congress and People’s World. That upsets the nurses, especially since reports reached NNU that the administration wants to back off requiring health care facilities to provide N95 respirators to nurses, in favor of surgical masks.

“Nurses are confident we can care for COVID-19 (coronavirus) patients, and even help stop the spread of this virus IF we are given the protections and resources we need to do our jobs,” said NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN. “This is not the time to relax our approach or weaken existing state or federal regulations. This is the time to step up efforts.”

Rank-and-file nurses at the Oakland, Calif., press conference said what they experienced confirms the survey findings, available online.

NNU via Twitter

“The lines of communication between our employers and frontline staff on protocols for coronavirus and suspected coronavirus patients are not open for all shifts and all units,” said Cathy Kennedy, RN, an NNU vice president at Kaiser Permanente in Roseville, Calif., where the first California coronavirus sufferer died.

“What happens when there is a lack of clear communication both ways between staff and management?

Rumor and falsehoods fill the void, stoking unnecessary fear and anxiety. And the information nurses do get is contradictory.”

NNU Co-President Deborah Burger, RN, read a statement from a quarantined Northern California Kaiser Permanente nurse who cared for a coronavirus sufferer and now has symptoms. Her doctor and the county health department agreed on testing her, but the federal Centers for Disease Control, the key agency in fighting the virus, overruled them.

It said she was wearing personal protective equipment—it didn’t say what—so “she couldn’t have the virus,” Burger reported.

“What kind of science-based answer is that?” the RN asked in her statement. Then CDC gave her a lower priority for taking virus samples than other sufferers.

“This is not the ticket dispenser at the deli counter,” that sick RN replied. “it’s a public health emergency! I am a registered nurse, and I need to know if I am positive before going back to caring for patients. Delaying this test puts the whole community at risk.”



Press Associates Union News Service provides national coverage of news affecting workers, including activism, politics, economics, legislation in Congress and actions by the White House, federal agencies and the courts that affect working people. Mark Gruenberg is Editor in chief and owner of Press Associates Union News Service, Washington, D.C.