In a dramatic settlement seen as a novel pattern for the nation, the nation's largest nurses union and professional association, and one of the country's biggest hospital systems today announced a landmark agreement that sets a national standard on containing the spread of pandemics such as H1N1 influenza.
"With this historic agreement, we are charting a new course for limiting the spread of not only swine flu but all other dangerous pandemics that are yet to come," said Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee (CNA/NNOC). "We are pleased that Catholic Healthcare West is joining with us to set the highest possible hospital safeguards for patients and nurses and creating an innovative model that every hospital in America should follow."
The settlement involves 13,000 registered nurses in 32 CHW facilities in California and Nevada who are represented by CNA/NNOC.
A centerpiece of the agreement is the creation of a new system-wide emergency task force, comprised of CNA/NNOC RNs and hospital representatives following the declaration of pandemic emergencies.
The task force will monitor system-wide preparedness and set uniform standards on full implementation of federal, state and local guidelines, availability of the property safety protective equipment, communication and training policies for all hospital personnel, and other needed steps, such as consideration of off-site emergency triage and treatment.
At each facility, CNA/NNOC nurse committees, in cooperation with facility infection control teams, will implement the system-wide policies and procedures.
Other features of the pact:
-- Employer agreement at each facility to comply with all federal, state and local laws and regulations, such as those set by the Centers for Disease Control and California Occupational Safety and Health Administration, to limit the spread of communicable diseases, like proper isolation of patients with H1N1 symptoms. Including the guidelines in the CNA/NNOC contracts gives them the added force of contract law.
-- Assurance that RNs "shall be provided" appropriate equipment and attire to stem contagion, such as single-use, N95 respirator masks when available.
-- Guarantee that the employer will provide information and training for nurses on communicable diseases to which they may have been exposed.
The settlement, also averted a strike that had been called for October 30.
"This is a huge breakthrough that should go a long way to making our hospitals safer and better prepared for containing the spread of H1N1 and stop the unnecessary exposure of fragile patients, their family members, or nurses and other staff to the virus," said Carol Koelle, RN, at St. Bernardine Medical Center in San Bernardino.
"Catholic Healthcare West nurses have stood together to protect our communities and our patients," said Allen Fitzpatrick, RN, at St. Mary's Medical Center in San Francisco.
"We can proudly expect the best possible standards to limit contagion and protect our members as well," said Kathy Dennis, RN, at Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento.
"We are proud to have achieved an agreement that will strengthen our ability to provide safe care for our patients," said Portia Fiesta, RN, at St. Rose Dominican in Las Vegas.
In calling the terms a national model, CNA/NNOC repeated that it continues to hear from nurses at other hospitals across the nation of serious lags in hospital readiness in such major areas as isolating contagious patients, distribution of N-95 masks, re-use of the masks, informing staff when they have been potentially exposed, and training everyone on the best policies and procedures.
"Now that the President has declared a national emergency on swine flu, it is more important than ever that we have uniform, consistent safety policies in every hospital to protect the public," said CNA/NNOC's Catholic Facilities Division Director Jill Furillo, RN. "There should be no more excuses for any hospital to fail to follow this model."
CNA/NNOC represents 86,000 registered nurses in all 50 states, and is working toward unification with the Massachusetts Nurses Association and United American Nurses to build a new 150,000 member national nurses organization.