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Federal Union Puts Artificial Fingernails Over Patient Safety

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Luke Rosiak Investigative Reporter

A federal employees union refuses to stop healthcare workers from wearing artificial fingernails that can harbor deadly germs when working with patients.

Officials with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) flew into a rage when a new policy said healthcare workers at the Federal Bureau of Prisons medical center in Rochester, Minn., shouldn’t wear acrylic nail extensions while caring for involuntary patients who may have diseases common in prisons like hepatitis C.

In late 2008, the prison notified the “union that the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JC) was mandating that our institution become compliant with several standards … which do not allow artificial nails or extenders when in direct contact with high risk patients. JC has deemed FMC Rochester to have a high risk population.”

Prison officials sought to preserve the facility’s accreditation, but AFGE representatives insisted on negotiating the change. The union also refused to compromise during mediation, even though prison managers said the issue was a matter of “life and death.” (RELATED: VA Nurse’s Aide Still On Payroll Despite Charge He Beat 70-Year-Old Vet To Death)

So in 2010, the matter wound up before the Federal Labor Relations Authority, whose arbiter found:

“It is clear the literature confirms that fingernails, including artificial nails, are efficient disease carriers if not properly trimmed. Nail extensions exacerbate the problem. I can find nothing that suggests gloves over extenders solves the problem, or even if it is possible to do so.

“The medical information infers that un-gloved hands are never safe and simply does not address whether nail length can be mitigated by gloving. The union’s proposal essentially provides that employees should ‘consider’ restrictions on nail length but avoids mandatory compliance.”

The arbiter then smacked down AFGE, ruling that “the medical center limitations on nail length shall be adopted. Similarly, artificial nails and nail extensions are not permitted for employees working in high- risk areas or whose duties could reasonably require they have such contact.” (RELATED: Union Sides With Male Prison Guard Who Attacked Female Colleague)

The arbiter noted the union’s inflexibility in arguing that federal workers caring for patients shouldn’t be required to fit latex gloves over their hands, saying “it is apparent the parties simply gave up on trying to bilaterally reach agreement and instead opted to have the matter decided by a third party.”

AFGE also represents most of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees, which has the largest federal civilian workforce and is the most engaged in direct patient care of vulnerable populations. The union recently said a rule making it easier to discipline poorly performing employees is racist because so many VA workers are minorities.

The union has also argued that its members should be favored over veterans in VA hiring. (RELATED: VA Labor Contract Favors Union Bureaucrats Over Vets For Jobs)

The World Health Organization says “acrylic nails harbor more microorganisms and are more difficult to clean than natural nails. Artificial nails and nail enhancements have been implicated in the transfer of microorganisms … and in outbreaks … Surgical site infections and hemodialysis-related bacteremias have been linked to artificial nails.

“They are also associated with poor hand hygiene practices and result in more tears to gloves. For these reasons, artificial nails and nail enhancements are not to be worn by those having direct contact with a client/patient/resident.”

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