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The nation's largest organization of registered nurses today called for broader, national action to promote containment and prevention of a wider swine flu pandemic.
While welcoming the Obama administration's call on Congress Tuesday to allocate $1.5 billion for combating the virus, the 86,000 member California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee said more is needed to bolster a healthcare infrastructure badly eroded after years of neglect in the public safety net.
"From SARS to avian flu to the current escalating outbreaks of swine influenza, it has become increasingly clear that we are risking a major catastrophe unless we act to restore the safety net, and devote the resources that are needed to protect the public," said CNA/NNOC co-president Deborah Burger, RN.
The CNA/NNOC action plan includes:
-- Reinstate the $870 million for pandemics that was cut from the economic stimulus bill.
-- Recruit and mobilize teams of scientists to create the appropriate effective vaccine for the virus.
-- Cease and desist any reductions in public health programs at federal, state, and local levels. Lift any freezes on public health funding currently in place.
-- Implement a moratorium on any closures of emergency rooms, layoffs of direct healthcare personnel, and reductions of hospital beds.
-- Allocate funding for recruitment and retention of school nurses, public health nurses.
-- Expand the network of community clinics, especially in medically underserved areas.
-- Add thousands of additional ventilators/respirators, which are critically needed in the event of epidemics.
-- Assure the availability of protective equipment for all healthcare personnel.
-- Require all insurance companies to suspend or waive all out-of-pocket expenses, including co-pays, deductibles, or co-insurance that discourage individuals from seeking preventive care for early signs of infection.
More than three years ago, CNA/NNOC warned that the "firewalls for stopping the next great pandemic are getting thinner," and cited cuts in public health funding and decreased capacity within the system needed to protect public safety.
In a November 2005 article in the CNA/NNOC national magazine, written at the time of avian flu warnings, CNA/NNOC noted the escalating cuts in public health funding then, and shrinking of capacity. For example, at the time, there were only 105,000 mechanical ventilators, of which 75,000 to 80,000 were in constant use, an alarming shortage of capacity in the event of acute respiratory distress syndrome.
Recalling the 1918-1919 global influenza which killed as many as 100 million people worldwide, and 675,000 Americans, the article noted that the world's population "was less than a third of what it is today and populations were far more isolated."
It also noted a major lesson of that pandemic was the enormous mitigating effect adequate nursing care has on mortality. "We need to rededicate our nation to expanding the supply of nurses and safe patient care in our hospitals and clinics, which is a central component of the healthcare safety net that is especially vital at times of public health crises," Burger noted.
Eliminating barriers to care based on ability to pay is another central priority, Burger added.
Recent reports have emphasized the growing number of Americans who are skipping routine medical screenings, exams, and general preventive care due to the skyrocketing co-pays, deductibles, and other use charges imposed by insurance companies.
"Price gouging by the healthcare industry has already put tens of millions of families in healthcare jeopardy, especially in an economic crisis," said Burger. "At a time when untold numbers are already exposed to a dangerous virus, we need to be removing any barriers to medical care that would exacerbate the spread of contagion."