The state’s largest nurses union said Tuesday that no California hospital is prepared to treat an Ebola patient, pressing Gov. Jerry Brown to require increased training and protective equipment for nurses.
The union’s call – and a rebuttal from the California Hospital Association – came as Brown met privately with nurses, public health officials and medical providers to discuss Ebola.
Though there are no known cases of Ebola in California, the virus has gripped public attention since an outbreak in West Africa and the infection of two nurses treating an Ebola patient who died in Texas earlier this month.
The Brown administration issued no mandates but said in a prepared statement that “officials are taking steps to help ensure health care workers, hospitals and first responders are prepared to treat and care for patients with Ebola.”
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RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association and National Nurses United, said California hospitals have failed to provide adequate training or equipment to nurses, a claim hospitals disputed.
“None of the hospitals in California are prepared,” DeMoro said after meeting with Brown. “We cannot name a hospital that we feel comfortable with, for patients in the state of California to attempt to have the appropriate response in an Ebola situation.”
Speaking at a news conference outside Brown’s offices at the Capitol, DeMoro said, “The deficiencies in the systems in California are outrageous.”
The California Hospital Association said hospitals have been providing Ebola training and that they are prepared for an Ebola patient.
“You have to remember that hospitals prepare for emergencies, disasters, infectious diseases all the time,” said BJ Bartleson, a California Hospital Association vice president. “We are well prepared.”
Brown administration officials said they are sharing information with hospital officials and have encouraged health care and public health workers to “assess their Ebola readiness and conduct drills in their facilities.” The administration also touted the launch of an informational website and issuance of guidance to hospitals from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
DeMoro said the meeting with Brown was “extremely productive” and that she believes Brown “will actually move an agenda for the country, where he’ll be a role model.”
The nurses union has been a major financial supporter of Brown in his political campaigns.
The news conference came a day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued tightened guidance for protective equipment for health care workers in Ebola situations. It calls for rigorous training and supervision by a trained monitor who watches health care workers while they put protective equipment on and take it off, among other measures.
The California Hospital Association said in a prepared statement that it supports the CDC’s new guidelines and is working with the state to implement those guidelines. The nurses union said the guidelines, while an improvement, do not go far enough.
There are no known or suspected cases of Ebola in California, but state health officials last week said they are stepping up preparedness efforts, including seeking screening at the state’s international airports and launching an outreach campaign urging hospitals to develop protocols.
“It’s very important that we are able to have systems in place to do early identification of people who are ill,” Dr. James Watt, chief of the state Department of Public Health’s communicable disease control unit, said last week. “The reality is that every hospital situation is unique and our strategy is to support hospitals in developing their own plans.”
The state department lists the risk of spread of the virus in California as “extremely low” and said on its website that, “While we should be aware of the disease, its symptoms and its potential, it is extremely unlikely that Ebola poses a public health risk to Californians.”
The meeting between Brown and the nurses union comes after two nurses who treated an Ebola patient in Texas tested positive for the virus. The patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, died at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas on Oct. 8, while more than 40 people who had contact with him and did not contract the virus were cleared from monitoring earlier this week.
Nurses at the Capitol on Tuesday wore stickers that read, “I am Nina Pham,” a reference to one of the sickened nurses.
Nurses unions have been pushing for improved preparedness for Ebola at hospitals nationwide, with National Nurses United urging President Barack Obama to invoke his executive authority to mandate national standards for increased training and protective gear.
In California, nurses at Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento complained last week that they were inadequately prepared to safely treat a patient red-flagged as potentially having Ebola, though that patient and another one in Los Angeles did not ultimately test positive for the virus.
DeMoro, surrounded by nurses at the news conference Tuesday, said the nurses are advocating on behalf of public health.
“Everyone should just, like, love and appreciate the fact that our nurses are willing to care for the most deadly disease that we’ve encountered, and all they’re asking for is training, preparation and the right equipment.”
Meanwhile, health experts around the country have called for a shift in public attention from Ebola to the flu, which is far easier to contract and kills thousands of people every year in the United States.
The California Nurses Association opposed legislation in 2012 that would have required health care workers who work with patients in hospitals and nursing homes to get annual flu vaccinations or wear surgical masks.
At the time, the union said the legislation ran afoul of workers’ rights.
Asked about the bill Tuesday, DeMoro said, “That’s a nonstarter.”
“That’s a nonstarter for this discussion,” she said. “And frankly, it’s an insult to even invoke that when these nurses are trying to fight for their safety and health in a situation that could put their lives in peril.”
At the hospital association, Bartleson said of the nurses union, “If they’re complaining so much about getting protective equipment, why wouldn’t they support getting flu shots?”