US nurses' union to stage strikes, claiming Ebola protections not enough

A digitally colorised scanning electron micrograph depiction shows numerous filamentous Ebola virus particles in green, budding from a chronically infected VERO E6 cell in orange in this undated handout picture from the National Institute of Allergy
A digitally colorised scanning electron micrograph depiction shows numerous filamentous Ebola virus particles in green, budding from a chronically infected VERO E6 cell in orange in this undated handout picture from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in the United States. A California-based nurses union has threatened to go on strike against what it views as insufficient protection for nurses caring for patients stricken with the deadly Ebola virus. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - A California-based nurses union said on Thursday it was organising strikes and other protests against what it views as insufficient protection for nurses caring for patients stricken with the deadly Ebola virus.

The nurses have demanded better protection when treating Ebola patients for weeks, ever since two nurses in Texas became infected with the virus while treating Mr Thomas Duncan, a Liberian who fell ill and died while visiting Dallas. "Nurses, who have been willing to stand by the patients whether it's the flu, whether it's Ebola, whether it's cancer, now they're being asked to put themselves in harm's way unprotected, unguarded," said Ms Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, based in Oakland.

National Nurses United and its affiliate, the California Nurses Association (CNA), said nurses would walk off the job on Nov 12, at 66 Kaiser Permanente facilities in California, and at Providence Hospital in Washington, D.C. In addition to the walkouts, nurses at other facilities nationwide would engage in protests on Nov 12, including picketing and staging bake sales to raise money for hazmat suits for nurses, Ms DeMoro said.

The bulk of those walking out, about 18,000 nurses, are employees of Kaiser Permanente in Northern and Central California, where they are in the midst of acrimonious negotiations over a new labor contract.

Kaiser's human resources chief Gay Westfall said the non-profit managed health-care giant is well-prepared for Ebola, with protocols and protective equipment that meets or exceeds federal recommendations. "The claims CNA is making about Kaiser Permanente's Ebola preparedness, in an attempt to justify a strike, are simply untrue," she said.

The nurses' latest contract with Kaiser expired last week.

Earlier this month, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention beefed up its recommendations for personal protective equipment to include hooded full-body suits that cover the neck, more frequent hand washing and a supervisor who oversees the removal of infected gear, steps experts said should have been taken long ago.

But advocates for nurses say the recommendations should go further, and should be standardised and mandatory in all health-care settings. The nurses union has circulated a petition asking Congress or President Barack Obama to declare a national standard.

"We want something where a virus cannot penetrate anywhere from head to toe in the nurse's body," Ms DeMoro said.