October 31, 2014

Union leaders meet with Obama, Ebola czar

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications

Specialists from nursing, health and safety, and communications at the United Federation of Teachers and the American Federation Teachers were summoned to Washington, D.C. Wednesday as part of a working group of 28 people meeting on Ebola disease and then meeting with President Barack Obama.

"We had a private meeting, with no press," said nurse Anne Goldman, the UFT's vice president of non-Department of Education Employees – including nurses – and serves as chair of NYSUT's Health Care Professionals Council. "We were told 'You are here as leaders because you have dealt with this in an appropriate manner, you didn't turn people fearful, and you are ready to roll up your sleeves and get to work."

The group, including Darryl Alexander, AFT's director of health and safety, met with Ron Klain, newly named national Ebola response coordinator.

Goldman said they told Klain that when the H1N1 flu first presented itself, "We had a lot of contact with the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention)." That has not been the case with Ebola. You have to give us that coordination."

A coordinator was established by the end of the day, Goldman said.

The union health care advocates also asked that CDC guidelines for dealing with Ebola also include staffing ratios, which she said were not set forth.

After the meeting, Goldman and Alexander met with an ebola survivor, his family, the president's team, and President Barack Obama.

"I am honored that I had this opportunity," Goldman said.

In addition to specific, clear plans needed to protect both health care workers and patients, the overall effects of action and discourse must be considered."I think knowledge, science and necessary precautions are in order," Goldman said. However, using the disease as discrimination against people from West Africa, travelers, and health care workers causes fear and reactions.

"We need to use science for the basis of decisions," said Goldman.

President Obama, during the meeting with health care workers Wednesday, said: "We don't react to our fears, instead, we respond with common sense and skill and courage. That's the best of our history — not fear, not hysteria, not misinformation. We react clearly and firmly, even when others are losing their heads. That's part of the reason why we're effective. That's part of the reason why people look to us. And because of the work that's being done by folks like this and by folks who are right now, as we speak, in the three affected countries, we're already seeing a difference."

Goldman praised unions for being the "watchdog" when the disease first appeared in the United States, and said she and other union leaders have walked rounds in hospitals and home care settings to ensure protocols are in place.

"We've gone from place to place to review what is lacking," Goldman said. "We've done this face to face with the employers."

"Having a point person is very essential," she said."It has to be more than a piece of paper. We have to say, 'What if the gown rips? What if it's the wrong mask? How do we transport individuals? Do housekeepers know? Dietary?'"

The unions continue to investigate equipment, training models and compliance with CDC.