Nurses Report Flaws in Swine Flu Handling-Are You at Risk?

| by AFL-CIO

As we approach flu season, a survey of 190 health care facilities in nine states finds a

“disturbing number of our nation’s healthcare facilities are not prepared for the coming H1N1/swine flu pandemic.”

The survey, by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee (CNA/NNOC), was conducted in late July and August and found wide gaps in safety gear, infection control training and post-exposure procedures.

-- 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 guidelines.
-- At 18 percent of the hospitals, RNs report that nurses have become infected—one nurse in Sacramento, Calif., has died.

A government report released earlier this week warned that half the nation’s population could become infected with the H1N1 (swine flu) virus and as many as 1.8 million could be hospitalized and 90,000 could die. The report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology stresses the numbers are not a prediction, but a “planning scenario.”

When it comes to protecting front-line health care workers and patients, Deborah Burger, RN and CNA/NNOC co-president, says the continuing problems at health care facilities “increase the risk” that many “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. 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.

The union has released “The Nurses Swine Flu Safety Agenda” that among other demands calls 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.
-- Providing all hospital workers and visitors 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.
-- Guaranteeing all patients and workers full transparency after any exposures to H1N1, in as timely a manner as possible.

Click here for more information the survey and the safety agenda.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 182,000 swine flu cases and 1,799 deaths worldwide have been confirmed. The CDC reports 7,983 hospitalizations and 522 deaths in the United States caused by swine flu.

Meanwhile, from elementary schools to colleges, students are returning to classrooms, and AFT has posted a special H1N1 flu section on its website. It provides the latest information and resources for kindergarten through grade 12 teachers, college and university faculty, health care workers and public employees.

Also AFSCME has an extensive H1N1 site that includes fact sheets, a resource page and other information.

Don’t forget to check out the AFL-CIO’s pandemic flu site, which includes vital resources for health care workers, firefighters, educators and more. Recently added to the site are five updated fact sheets:

-- Basic Facts About Pandemic Flu and the H1N1 (Swine) Flu;
-- Protecting Workers During Pandemic Flu;
-- Protecting Health Care Workers During Pandemic Flu;
-- Respirators: One Way to Protect Workers Against Pandemic Flu; and
-- What the Union Can Do: Preparing the Workplace for Pandemic Flu.

For even more information, go to