Union health care leaders are playing a major role in establishing health care protocols and protections for dealing with Ebola.
Nursing, health and safety, and communications professionals from the United Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers traveled in November to the White House to provide input about treating Ebola patients and protecting health care workers who provide treatment.
Nurse Anne Goldman, UFT vice president for non-Department of Education employees and chair of NYSUT's Health Care Professionals Council, was among them.
Before meeting with President Barack Obama, the 28-member working group, which included Darryl Alexander, AFT's director of health and safety, met privately with Ron Klain, the nation's Ebola response coordinator.
"We were told, 'You are here 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,'" Goldman said.
One concern the group raised was that when H1N1 — the swine flu virus — surfaced in 2009, labor health care leaders had a lot of contact with the Centers for Disease Control; that was not the case with Ebola. A CDC coordinator was identified by the end of the day, Goldman said.
NYSUT represents thousands of hospital nurses, visiting nurses and school nurses as well as doctors and other medical professionals at State University of New York teaching hospitals, who belong to United University Professions. SUNY Upstate in Syracuse and SUNY Stony Brook on Long Island are among the eight hospitals in New York designated as special centers to treat any Ebola cases identified in the state.
Although there are currently no further identified cases of Ebola in the U.S. as of press time, health care workers need to remain informed and protected.
Howard Sandau, nursing representative to the UFT Federation of Nurses, said new protocol now establishes that visiting nurses need to ask questions about fever, travel and contact before they visit a new patient. Going on a home visit without first establishing a patient's health status on the phone "can never happen again," he said.
The original CDC guidelines did not include home health care nurses, he said. Now, one point person has been designated as their contact person.
Hospital nurses, likewise, need to know where the personal protective equipment is, how to use it and who the point person is.
Working together with administration and staff is vital, said Sandau, who has been meeting weekly with New York City health officials to establish procedures.
Lutheran Hospital, for example, has two points of entry: the emergency room and labor/delivery. No Ebola screening policy was in place for maternity patients. Procedure now calls for maternity patients to first go to the ER to establish patient health, travel and possible contact.
Sandau said Ebola training and personal protective equipment checklist rounds are now conducted twice a week during day and night shifts.
Members of the NYSUT council, along with other unionists, are also distributing safety and treatment protocol cards issued by the state Department of Health for health care workers.
"It's important to translate policy and procedure to the front lines," Goldman told council members at a November meeting. "That's the power of labor."
NYSUT President Karen E. Magee said keeping workers safe is a fundamental union issue. "We are steadfast in our advocacy and monitoring of the situation," she said.
She reiterated NYSUT's insistence that the insights and experiences of practitioners be included when government decisions are made about health care protocols to protect patient
What is Ebola?
Ebola is a highly contagious viral illness, spread by direct contact with body fluid(s) — such as urine, saliva, blood, breast milk, semen, etc. — from an infected individual. It is characterized by the sudden onset of fever and malaise, along with other symptoms such as myalgia, headache, vomiting and diarrhea.
In severe and fatal forms, multiorgan dysfunction develops, including liver and kidney damage and central nervous system involvement, leading to shock and death.
The Ebola virus incubates from two to 21 days before the disease becomes evident, making it very difficult to screen effectively for symptoms as individuals move about in their travels.
FOR MORE INFO
Visiting nurses who have questions about Ebola can call 212-609-RISK, a new emergency number at Visiting Nurse Service of New York.
AFT Nurses and Health Professionals has prepared a range of resource documents for health professionals. Visit www.aft.org/healthcare/ebola-virus-disease-global-health-and-domestic-preparedness.
The New York Committee on Occupational Safety and Health has posted resources at http://nycosh.org/uploads/news/id186/NYCOSH-EbolaFactsheet-Final.pdf.