Nurses' union warns U.S. hospitals not prepared for Ebola outbreak


The largest nurses' union in the country is warning that most hospitals aren't adequately prepared to handle an Ebola outbreak in the U.S.

Katy Roemer, an Oakland-area nurse and board member of National Nurses United's California chapter, says the U.S. healthcare system is so fragmented that hospitals are "kind of voluntarily doing whatever they choose to do" to prepare for Ebola.

"We don't have a national standard at this point," Roemer told Fusion. "We don't work within a centralized system."

She said the union is prepared to take "whatever action we need to take" to get training and equipment before it's too late.


A survey by National Nurses United found that three-quarters of nurses polled say their hospital hasn't talked to them about how to handle Ebola patients, and 85 percent say their hospital hasn't provided any education on Ebola.

The Centers for Disease Control's today promised to "double down" on efforts to prevent more cases in the U.S.

But Roemer says that's "not good enough." She also blasted the CDC for insinuating that a nurse infected from treating an Ebola patient in Dallas was somehow at fault for a breach in protocol.

"Their first response when she becomes infected with a virus that could kill her is that it's her fault," she said. "I find that appalling. My colleagues find that appalling."


The CDC's director, Dr. Thomas Frieden, said at a briefing on Monday that it was "certainly not" his intention to fault the patient, who is now "clinically stable."

Earlier, the agency said a "breach in protocol" led to the nurse's infection, but did not offer specifics. Frieden said the agency is investigating how protective gear was put on and removed and will step up efforts to supervise those practices moving forward.


In the meantime, the nurses' union is concerned that most healthcare professionals don't have adequate protective gear.

The union wants hospitals and clinics to have access to the "most optimal personal protective equipment," including hazmat suits, Roemer said. Nurses also need adequate training in how to use the equipment and care for patients safely, she added.


"We deserve no less if we're going to put our lives on the line," she said.

As for why hospitals and clinics have fallen short when it comes to preparing their staffs, she said, "All I can think of is they don't want to spend the money to do it." She added, "This is well within their ability, should they choose to put the resources forward to do it."


Frieden said Monday his teams would work with hospitals and clinics if any new cases arrive, but Roemer says time is critical.

"We are very concerned about Ebola," Roemer stressed. "We don't want to spread panic. We want to spread readiness, not fear."


Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.

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