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State’s healthcare unions demand necessary protective equipment

Largest hospital and clinic unions call for highest possible level of personal protec­tion for caregivers during COVID-19 outbreak


SEATTLE (March 11, 2020) — The following is a joint statement released Tuesday by the Washington State Nurses Associ­a­tion, SEIU Health­care 1199NW and UFCW 21 on personal protec­tions for health­care workers:

The CDC has announced new interim recom­men­da­tions on the use of personal protec­tive equip­ment (PPE) for situa­tions where adequate supplies are unavail­able. The CDC recom­men­da­tions state that face masks are an accept­able alter­na­tive when the supply chain of respi­ra­tors cannot meet the demand. We maintain our position that N‑95 respi­ra­tors are the gold standard and are neces­sary protec­tion for our nurses and health­care workers caring for suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients, and the CDC agrees that when the supply chain is restored, providers should return to the use of N95s. The CDC states that ​This interim guidance has been updated based on currently avail­able infor­ma­tion about COVID-19 and the current situa­tion in the United States, which includes reports of cases of commu­nity trans­mis­sion, infec­tions identi­fied in health­care personnel (HCP), and short­ages of facemasks, N95 filtering facepiece respi­ra­tors (FFRs) (commonly known as N95 respi­ra­tors), and gowns.”

The supply shortage must continue to be addressed in the most aggres­sive way possible. We continue to call on the CDC to proac­tively and effec­tively target the supply of respi­ra­tors and use other controls to reduce the risk of infec­tion in health care workers, knowing that our profes­sionals are at the highest risk of infec­tion. The federal govern­ment should do all in its power to increase the supply of N‑95 respi­ra­tors and other PPE, which includes releasing the national stock­pile and targeting supplies to areas where the outbreak has already occurred; incen­tivizing U.S.-based compa­nies to produce more N‑95s; and promoting the use of powered air purifying respi­ra­tors (PAPRs) in health care settings.

We addition­ally call on hospi­tals, clinics and other health care facil­i­ties to provide personal protec­tive equip­ment in an equitable manner. All health care workers — providers, nurses, technical staff and service workers including environ­mental services janito­rial staff — who have the poten­tial for direct or indirect exposure to COVID-19 must be afforded the same standard of PPE. Further­more, many health care workers speak English as a second language. Instruc­tion in the use of PPE and in safe work practices in environ­ments where COVID-19 may be present must be provided in multiple languages and in clear, uncom­pli­cated phrasing in order to increase access to essen­tial information.

As nurses and health care workers, we care deeply for our patients and take pride in the roles we play on the front lines of patient care, partic­u­larly during a commu­nity health crisis like the one presented by COVID-19. We are committed to the health of our patients and our commu­ni­ties. We will continue to work closely with health care employers and with federal and local public health agencies to ensure all caregivers have access to the highest level of PPE avail­able so we can continue to provide the high-quality health care our commu­ni­ties require.

SEIU Health­care 1199NW is a union of nurses and health­care workers with over 30,000 caregivers throughout hospi­tals, clinics, mental health, skilled home health and hospice programs in Washington state and Montana. SEIU Health­care 1199NW’s mission is to advocate for quality care and good jobs for all.

WSNA is the leading voice and advocate for nurses in Washington state, providing repre­sen­ta­tion, educa­tion and resources that allow nurses to reach their full profes­sional poten­tial and focus on caring for patients. WSNA repre­sents more than 17,000 regis­tered nurses for collec­tive bargaining who provide care in hospi­tals, clinics, schools and commu­nity and public health settings across the state.

UFCW 21 is working to build a powerful union that fights for economic, polit­ical and social justice in our workplaces and our commu­ni­ties. We repre­sent over 45,000 workers in retail, grocery stores, health care, and other indus­tries in Washington state.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 11, 2020) — AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka released the following statement Tuesday on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) weakening its written guidance protections for health care workers during the COVID-19 outbreak:

The CDC weakening its protection guidelines in the face of a pandemic is unconscionable. America’s health care workers have shown true courage by tirelessly working the frontlines during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak. These workers are among the most at risk of contracting the virus and if they are not properly protected, the effects could be devastating.  

A recent nationwide survey from National Nurses United (NNU) of registered nurses showed that the vast majority of United States hospitals and health care facilities are vastly unprepared to handle and contain cases of COVID-19. The government needs to do its job and strengthen its recommendations and hold employers accountable for implementing those protections. Cases of COVID-19 in America are already rapidly multiplying, and if our country is not protecting its health care workers, things will only get worse.

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