SACRAMENTO (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown met with state agency heads, labor unions and leaders in the health care industry Tuesday to address Ebola preparedness at hospitals and other medical facilities throughout California.
RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of the state’s largest nurses’ union and National Nurses United, said hospitals have been slow in responding to the Ebola threat. The union wants the type of gear used at premier institutions as well as practice on how to remove it after caring for an Ebola patient.
“We hope to God that it never comes to California. But if it does, we want to make sure our nurses have every safeguard,” DeMoro said after the nurses’ separate meeting with Brown.
While the administration has not issued any mandates, the union praised the Democratic governor for his leadership. The governor also convened meetings with emergency responders, local health directors and medical providers.
DeMoro said hospitals have inadequate equipment, referring nurses to websites rather than deploying teams to interact with them. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new guidelines Monday that in part called for health care workers caring for Ebola patients to wear face shields, hoods, boot covers and other clothing, leaving no part of the body exposed.
The association representing hospitals says its members are working with California’s workplace regulatory agency to implement the new guidelines.
“The safety of patients, hospital employees, first responders, providers and the public is paramount,” according to a joint statement from the California Hospital Association, the Association of California Nurse Leaders and the American Nurses Association-California. “Californians can be reassured that universal precautions are in place to screen and identify infectious diseases.”
There are currently no cases of Ebola in California. However, state officials have been meeting with health care workers, hospitals and emergency workers to be prepared.
Brown has been meeting with state officials from the Health and Human Services Agency, California Department of Public Health, Department of Industrial Relations and the Division of Occupational Safety and Health.
The governor’s office has not said what actions Brown might take from the meetings.
“California’s workplace safety and health standards go further than national standards in protecting workers from hazards such as Ebola,” Juliann Sum, acting chief of the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, known as Cal/OSHA, said in announcing workplace guidelines last week.
For example, California adopted regulations in 2009 known as the Aerosol Transmissible Diseases Standard that requires workers at risk of exposure to Ebola to wear gloves, impermeable body coverings, face shields or other eye and face protection. Ebola is transmitted through direct contact with the blood or other bodily fluids of an infected, symptomatic person, or through exposure to objects that have been contaminated.
Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, said while government needs to be a leader in protecting public health, there are practical steps the health care industry could take now, such as getting their flu shots.
In 2012, Brown vetoed Wolk’s SB1318 that would have required health care workers to be vaccinated against influenza. The bill was opposed by the California Nurses Association.
“Thousands of Americans die in hospitals every year from the flu, some of them due to transmittal by health care workers,” Wolk said. “We have only one death from Ebola in the U.S. thus far.”
DeMoro said it’s insulting to bring up the flu when nurses are fighting for their safety.
Health officials say between 5 and 20 percent of Americans are infected with influenza each year. According to the Department of Public Health, 404 Californians under age 65 died of the flu last season.
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