Chicago area nurses demand more protection against Ebola

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Chicago area registered nurses said Tuesday that they welcomed the CDC’s announcement urging U.S. hospitals to put in place stricter guidelines for nurses and other health workers dealing with Ebola patients.

But substantial concerns remain, members of the National Nurses United said. The union represents 185,000 nurses nationwide, including 6,000 in the Chicago area.

About 20 nurses — from the Cook County Health & Hospitals System, University of Chicago Medical Center and several Veterans Affairs hospitals — showed up at the news conference outside the Cook County building Tuesday evening.

Similar press conferences were held earlier Tuesday by other chapters of the National Nurses United in St. Louis, Fort Lauderdale, Oakland, Sacramento and Bangor, Maine.

The new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tightened infection-control guidelines for health care workers — including recommending that no skin be exposed; that health care workers undergo rigorous training; and that workers be supervised by trained monitors when they are putting on or taking off protective gear.

Nurses said all that is a good start to keep any more nurses from getting infected by the virus.

Two nurses became ill in Dallas after caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, who was the first person diagnosed with Ebola in this country and died Oct. 8.

But Jan Rodolfo, a registered nurse and Midwest director of National Nurses United, noted that there is no requirement that hospitals follow the CDC’s new recommendations.

For that reason, they urged Congress and the White House to mandate that all hospitals meet the optimal uniform, national standards and protocols to safely protect patients, all health care workers and the public.

Nurses also said the CDC guidelines should be clearer about what type of protective wear hospitals should provide. They say they should have full-body suits, known as haz-mat suits. They argued that leaving it for hospitals to decide means that some may pick the cheapest protective equipment, which would continue to put nurses and other health workers at risk.

There have not been any Ebola cases in Illinois yet. But the state public health director, the mayor of Chicago and numerous hospitals, including Cook County hospitals, insist they’re prepared to deal with the first case and that no health care worker will be asked to care for a suspected Ebola case without first getting the training they need.

Yet, nurses say that even if some hospitals may have guidelines in place on how to handle suspected Ebola cases and have trained some of their staff, all health care workers at all hospitals need to be trained and practice the safety procedures.

Talisa Hardin, a registered nurse in the burn unit at the University of Chicago hospital, for instance, noted that she hadn’t been trained on how to put on or take off protective wear. She argued that was necessary because not all patients go through the emergency room before coming to the burn unit, and therefore may miss U. of C. precautions that are in place to identify a suspected Ebola patient.

The U. of C. did not respond to a request for comment.

“This is not about University of Chicago. This is a problem around the country,” Hardin said. “Nurses around the country overwhelmingly reported that their hospitals were not prepared. And that they had not been trained in any hands-on, meaningful ways.”

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