Nursing a Grudge – Protect Health Care Workers or Pay the Price

There are already many stories indicating that hospitals and other medical facilities are being strained by large numbers of pandemic flu patients. This will only get worse. One can only imagine the stress that this must put on  health care workers. You might think that hospital administrators would rank protection of nurses a high priority.

Well, perhaps not at the Sutter Solano Medical Center. From the Contra Costa Times:

A complaint filed last week by nurses who say they may have contracted swine flu at work could give birth to new standards about what level of protection employers owe their employees.

Investigators from the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health are now trying to determine what constitutes a “use” of the specialty masks designed to protect against pandemic illness, like swine flu.

The nurses from Sutter Solano Medical Center allege hospital management is jeopardizing their health by asking them to reuse the 3M N95 masks.

About 10 nurses say they have developed respiratory illness over the past few weeks as they treat patients with either confirmed or suspected cases of swine flu. The virus has been blamed for one Solano County death.

N95 respirators are an essential safeguard against infection from pandemic influenza. At some point during the pandemic, the need for these devices may exceed the capacity of the companies that make them. However, these respirators are readily available from vendors now. There is no reason why hospitals cannot order enough for their nurses and other health care workers treating pandemic flu patients.

Well, no good reason, anyways. Perhaps some health administrators are balking at the cost, about $1 per respirator. If so, they should think again. If nurses get ill and perhaps die because they do not have access to proper protection, don’t expect them to show up for work. Nurses on the flu forums have made this abundantly clear. They will work if they have adequate personal protective equipment, they won’t if they don’t.

Note to hospital administrators: buy the respirators your staff need. Or you won’t have the staff your hospitals need.

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