A national nurses union will host a media event in downtown Bangor on Tuesday to demand that Congress and the president mandate stricter protocols against Ebola to protect health care workers, patients and the public.
National Nurses United has organized a week of events in Maine and several other states as part of its effort to ensure hospitals and health care employers institute the highest safety precautions against the deadly virus. The union recently launched a petition demanding that lawmakers and President Barack Obama mandate uniform national standards that hospitals must follow.
Last week, the union released a statement by unidentified nurses who work at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas describing the hospital’s inadequate preparations and protective equipment during the treatment of Thomas Eric Duncan, an Ebola patient who died Oct. 8. Two nurses who treated him were infected with the virus.
The union has blamed a fragmented, uncoordinated health care system for the Texas nurses’ exposure to Ebola and rallied on their behalf. Nurses at the Dallas hospital are not unionized.
In California, where National Nurses United is lobbying for the state nurses association in its contract talks with Kaiser Permanente, nurses are demanding better Ebola preparations as part of their negotiations, Kaiser Health News reported.
“We are asking everyone to sign our petition demanding the president, the Congress, and every hospital in the United States ensure that optimal protections are implemented immediately,” Cokie Giles, president of the Maine State Nurses Association, said in a news release announcing Tuesday’s event. “That is how we are going to contain Ebola and protect our patients. We are all Dallas nurses now.”
No other cases of Ebola, beyond the three in Texas, have been confirmed in the U.S. Public health officials continue to stress that the risk of an outbreak in the U.S. remains very low. The virus has killed more than 4,500 people in West Africa.
National Nurses United, which has 185,000 members nationwide, conducted an online survey that found 84 percent of nurses indicated their hospital failed to provide adequate training on Ebola, lacked the proper protective gear and supplies, and had no plan to treat Ebola patients. Three thousand nurses from more than 780 facilities in 48 states and the District of Columbia responded, according to the union.
The petition calls for hospitals to provide full body hazmat suits that meet higher standards for preventing blood and virus penetration, more robust respirators, and at least two registered nurses to directly care for potential Ebola patients while handling no other patient care duties.
In a statement, the Maine Hospital Association said the state’s medical centers take the safety and patients and staff “very seriously.”
“Hospitals are receiving and implementing the latest information about best practices and guidelines from the national and Maine Centers for Disease Control,” the statement said. “It is generally not advisable to prescribe in law the practice of medicine given the need for speed, flexibility and adaptation on the ground. We are profoundly thankful for Maine’s nurses, doctors and other front-line personnel who do an outstanding job in meeting the myriad challenges that hospitals face 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.”
Last week, Gov. Paul LePage issued a statement saying Maine is prepared to respond to an outbreak of infectious diseases, including Ebola.