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Mercy nurses might strike

Hospital officials say protest is about pay
By: Brad Smith Telegraph Correspondent
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This Friday, Mercy Hospital of Folsom’s nurses might be walking a picket line instead of the hospital’s halls. They would be joining thousands of other nurses working for Catholic Healthcare West hospitals and two others, Daughters of Charity and St. Joseph’s. According to the California Nurses Association, nurses are protesting the hospitals’ “inadequate response measures to the H1N1 flu virus.” Hospital officials contend it’s about pay. According to the CNA’s spokesman Shum Preston, nurses claim that many hospitals are poorly isolating patients with H1N1 symptoms. “The nurses also feel that steps to limit contagion aren’t being taken,” Preston said. Providing N95 respirator masks and other protective gear for healthcare workers and patients are one example, he said. Preston cited widespread problems with poor segregation of patients, lack of sufficient N95 masks, numerous hospitals where nurses have been infected, inadequate training for hospital staff and punitive sick leave policies. In the case of the latter, nurses suspected of being sick have been made to take personal time off until they can be tested for H1N1. “There have been cases,” Preston said, “when nurses were fine and it was unnecessary for them to take time off, at their personal expense.” Richard Sand, a registered nurse who works in Folsom, said that he and his fellow nurses do use the N95s. “However,” he said, “other CHW hospitals don’t do that. Some hospitals have their staff use and re-use masks designed for one-time use only.” Sand said that, in some cases, surgical masks have been distributed to nurses and other staffers. “Surgical masks offer little protection against the H1N1 flu virus.” “The problem is,” Preston told the Telegraph, “many hospitals’ responses to the H1N1 flu virus and a possible pandemic is inconsistent. Different hospitals — but all part of the same chain — don’t have a uniform response policy.” The CNA, Preston said, wants hospitals to formally adopt all CDC and Cal-OSHA guidelines to make them enforceable by contract provisions assuring the highest safety measures are met, are uniform and consistently applied throughout the systems. “One nurse has already died due to H1N1,” Sand said. “We don’t want to lose more.” Speaking for CHW, spokeswoman Jill Dryer said Folsom and some other hospitals in the chain do follow CDC and Cal-OSHA guidelines. Plans are being made to make those policies uniform throughout all of the hospitals, she said. CHW, in a press release, contends that the strike is more about salary disputes than H1N1. Sand disagrees. “Yes, we want better, competitive pay,” he said. “We want something that will draw more people in the field. We do want that.” But, he added, it goes back to CHW being more proactive and consistent in its H1N1 policies. “For us, that’s the real issue why we’re doing this.”