Nurses, Hospital Reach 'Historic Agreement' on Pandemic Protection

In what is being hailed as an "historic agreement," the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee (CNA/NNOC) and Catholic Healthcare West hospital chain have reached a settlement that organizers say sets a national benchmark for protecting workers as well as patients and containing the spread of pandemics such as H1N1.

The settlement, which averted a strike that had been set for Oct. 30, covers 13,000 registered nurses in 32 CHW facilities in California and Nevada. According the agreement, the hospital chain will ensure safe staffing standards, reduce the assignment of RNs to areas outside their clinical expertise or orientation, and prevent management's proposed reduction in nurses' health care coverage. Importantly to CAN/NNOC, the agreement also creates a new system-wide emergency task force, comprised of CNA/NNOC RNs and hospital representatives following the declaration of pandemic emergencies.

"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 CNA/NNOC Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro. "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 task force set up by the settlement will monitor system-wide preparedness and set uniform standards on full implementation of federal, state, and local guidelines, availability of on-site protective safety equipment, communication and training policies for all hospital personnel, and other needed steps, such as consideration of off-site emergency triage and treatment.

On Oct. 22 Ohsonline reported on the possible Oct. 30 strike by as many as 16,000 RNs, surmising that while the planned protest concerned not only poor readiness by hospitals to confront H1N1 and other potential pandemics, it also involved contract negotiations that continued between CNA and the San Francisco-based CHW, which employs more than 10,000 CNA-represented RNs. Negotiations began last March. On Oct. 19, CHW spokeswoman Jill Dryer said a CHW proposal offering more than 20 percent in compensation increases and step raises over a four-year period was on the table for the union's consideration. Some RNs working for CHW are represented by other unions, but CNA is the largest one, Dryer said.

The story also reported that CNA/NNOC had recently released a survey of 190 U.S. hospitals where RNs cited widespread problems with poor segregation of patients, not enough N95 masks, inadequate training for hospital staff, and punitive sick leave policies. By then, more than 3,000 people had already been hospitalized in California because of H1N1 and more than 200 had died, including an RN infected at one of the hospitals where the nurses proposed to strike, according to the union. On Nov. 2, it added that talks covering pandemic standards and patient and worker safety are continuing at two other California hospital chains where some 3,000 CNA/NNOC RNs work.

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