Nurses across the US took part in a day of action on August 5 calling for better protection for both nurses and their patients. This call was also made in a petition which the National Nurses United (NNU) delivered on August 7 to every member of the US House of Representatives and the Senate.
Nurses protest for safety
Thousands of members of National Nurses United, the largest union and for nurses in the US, joined in countrywide protests on August 5. There were around 200 actions outside and inside health care facilities in at least 16 states. Masked and displaying banners, nurses called on leaders, employers, and the government to take immediate steps to protect both nurses and their patients.
Six months into the COVID-19 epidemic, and despite ongoing calls by nursing and other health care organizations since March, many nurses are still not being supplied with the personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary for adequate infection control. Zenei Cortez, President of NNU, emphasized that the COVID pandemic had exposed everything which was wrong with the health care system, where profit is prioritized over people.
“We still reuse PPE that was meant to be discarded. We still care for COVID-19 patients and non-COVID patients at the same time,” said Mary Turner, an ICU nurse and president of the Minnesota Nurses Association. “We still struggle to protect ourselves so we can protect our patients.”
Nurses face exposure in many hospital situations where it is not known which patients are infected and which are not. These nurses should be supplied with PPE which provides them with full protection. “Showing up to work to care for patients should not be a COVID-19 exposure roll of the dice for nurses, while employers and the government fail to take all measures to ensure the demand for PPE is met,” Carolyn Stoddard of West Anaheim Medical Center told Fox News.
NNU petitions Congress
On August 7, following the protest actions, the NNU delivered a virtual petition signed by over 520 000 people to every member of the House of Representatives and the US Senate. The petition called on Congress to prioritize workplace protection for nurses and other health care workers. Besides the NNU, other organizations which sponsored the petition included Be a Hero, Democracy for America, and People’s Action.
The petition repeated the call made by the NNU in March for legislation requiring the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard to ensure that all employers provided frontline workers with the necessary PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic. The petition also called for the Defence Production Act to be invoked so that PPE production could be increased.
“Nurses and other frontline workers have been calling out for Congress, the White House, and our employers to get us the personal protective equipment that we need, and those cries have fallen on deaf ears,” said Cortez. “We demand that Congress ensure that the fourth stimulus package they are currently negotiating includes legislation that will ensure that nurses get the PPE we desperately need.”
In addition, the petition called on Congress to provide further help to struggling households by extending the COVID benefits that had expired in July, to increase investment in public health and to dismantle structural racism in society.