Press Release

Nurses Leader to Testify to Congress on Ebola Friday

Following a day in which leaders of the nation’s largest nurses organization met with California Gov. Jerry Brown to urge his state to set a national model for optimal safety protocols for responding to the Ebola virus, National Nurses United announced it has been invited to testify before Congress Friday on the Ebola threat.

NNU Co-President Deborah Burger, RN will speak before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Friday morning, October 24 at 9:30 a.m. in Rayburn House Office Building Room 2154. Burger will urge Congress to legislatively mandate all U.S. hospitals to follow the highest possible Ebola standards and protocols to protect nurses, other frontline healthcare workers, and patients.

Her testimony comes just days after a large delegation of NNU/California Nurses Association members met with California Governor Jerry Brown asking him to direct California to set a national model in Ebola preparedness.

Brown, joined by department heads of every state agency that governs health policy and worker safety in California, carefully listened as RNs from every major hospital system in California described how poorly prepared their hospitals are for the day a patient with Ebola walks in the door.

The nurses described the lack of hands on training, Ebola education that was limited to flyer handouts or emails directing them to the website of the Centers for Disease Control, protective suits that left their necks and other skin exposed, the same flaw that likely contributed to the infection of two RNs at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, and constantly changing guidelines and protocols.

At one Southern California hospital, nurses have even been told that doctors will talk to patients with Ebola symptoms in isolation rooms from behind glass while sending in the RNs to provide the hands on care.

“This isn’t a philosophical discussion, this is a deadly disease that is alive in the United States,” said NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro calling for optimal standards to protect every nurse, every healthcare worker, every patient and every community. “There can be no compromise with the precautionary principle.”

“Hospitals acting as if it is business as usual can get people killed,” warned Malinda Markowitz, RN, a co-president of the California Nurses Association.

“We know that the hospitals are unprepared. We urge you,” said Markowitz to the Governor, “to establish the national model of optimal protective standards and use your regulatory authority to mandate the hospitals to do what they will not do on their own.”

Mercy Sacramento RN Kathy Dennis described her hospital’s preparedness as sending an email to nurses saying, “don’t worry, you’re protected” and encouraging them to educate themselves via the CDC website.

At San Francisco’s largest private hospital, Sutter Health’s California Pacific Medical Center, Amy Erb RN noted, “we’ve not seen one disaster drill in three years. The hospital seems more concerned with their profit margin than needing standardized protocols. Without mandates, nurses, physicians and other health workers are at risk. Ebola should not be a threat in this country.”

“We are convinced,” said Kaiser Permanente Oakland RN Katy Roemer, “that if the decision makers had to enter the room with a patient with Ebola, the equipment we are requesting would be purchased immediately. Instead, I lay in bed at night knowing that the hospital I work for has been designated an ‘Ebola treatment center’ and is dangerously unprepared to care for those patients.”

Gov. Brown took notes as the nurses spoke, and encouraged his department heads to act. Christine Baker, Director of Industrial Relations in California, whose sub agency, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal-OSHA) will set upgraded Ebola regulations for the state, said that “hospital preparedness is key,” and emphasized “what we do is a mandate” on the hospitals, “they must comply.”

The governor concluded the meeting noting that his administration was listening closely to the nurses. “We’re moving. This is on the top of my list. We’re engaged. We’re in action mode.”

Cal-OSHA is expected to issue updated regulations soon, and DeMoro afterwards reminded reporters outside the meeting that the nurses will carefully monitor what happens next and keep up the pressure, especially on the hospitals. “I don’t care if we have to sit down in front of every CEO in this country. I want the nurses and the patients protected.”