California Nurses’ Union Wants Extra Ebola Coverage

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Nurses’ unions are using the failure of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols to keep health workers safe while treating Ebola patients as an opportunity to ask for more benefits for union members from their hospitals.

The California Nurses Association has added a request for extra, Ebola-specific health coverage to their new contract negotiation with Kaiser Permanente, Kaiser Health News reports. It’s the union’s newest request in contract negotiations that have been going on for months.

The nurses want more training, staffing, personal protective gear that exceeds federal standards (which didn’t help much in Dallas). They’ve even requested an extra life insurance policy, according to KHN.

“We’d like to have an extra supplemental coverage, for specifically Ebola, if we were to contract Ebola while we’re at work,” said Diane McClure, a nurse at a Kaiser Permanente hospital in Sacramento and part of the California union’s collective bargaining team, told KHN.

Sacramento’s Kaiser Permanente hospital, like several others across the country, helped a patient who was suspected of having Ebola in August — but he turned out not to have the disease. Even after the case, according to McClure, the hospital still failed to provide nurses with any “meaningful, hands-on training.”

“They felt that all they had to do was pull up some [Centers for Disease Control] information online and put some fliers on the tables and in the bathroom and that was it,” McClure said.

The largest national nurses union, National Nurses United, have been blasting Texas Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, which treated the initial American Ebola patient, for failing to protect its nurses. After two nurses at the hospital contracted Ebola while treating Thomas Duncan, NNU challenged the hospital and the CDC for failing to provide nurses with proper protective equipment and training.

One expert told KHN that the unions are likely taking advantage of the crisis in order to gain national membership.

“Of course it’s opportunistic,” Joanne Septz, an economics professor at a California nursing school, told KHN. “Texas is a state that has had virtually no union representation for registered nurses. So NNU may view this as an opportunity to demonstrate to nurses in the state what the value of their representation might be.”

Both Dallas nurses which contracted Ebola from treating the initial patient have been transferred to hospitals specially equipped to handle Ebola patients and are reportedly doing well.

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Sarah Hurtubise