healthcare, unions — November 12, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Michigan Nurses Association takes the lead on Ebola preparedness and protections


The MNA is working with Michigan health systems to protect nurses and patients, even as Governor Rick Snyder stalls on meeting about statewide standards.

On Wednesday, registered nurses from the Michigan Nurses Association (MNA) held a press conference in front of Governor Rick Snyder’s office to discuss Michigan’s ability to safely care for an Ebola patient and demand a state standard for all Michigan hospitals. The Governor has so far refused to meet with MNA, Michigan’s largest organization representing frontline nurses.

“There’s no doubt we’ve had differences with this governor,” said MNA President John Armelagos, RN, at the press conference. “He said he’d contact us and he hasn’t. But this isn’t about politics. This is about making sure that nurses, the primary caregivers for Ebola patients, are safe and that our communities are safe.”

A review of protocols and procedures from more than 30 hospitals and public health departments where the nurses are represented by MNA for collective bargaining showed that a majority of respondents did not have adequate information about the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) or how to incorporate guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

At the press conference, MNA Executive Director John Karebian underscored the importance of providing optimal equipment and protections if an Ebola patient appears in Michigan.

We know that the majority of hospitals in Michigan won’t admit an Ebola patient but they still have to take care of them for that 48 hours until they can be transferred. Not one more nurse should be at risk of being infected because our hospitals weren’t ready.

The MNA is asking for a state standard that includes appropriate PPE, continuous interactive training on the use of PPE and all care protocols for Ebola patients, appropriate staffing, and protection of benefits and working conditions. According to Armelagos, this would assist hospitals and facilities in their ongoing preparedness efforts.

Karebian added that a safe Michigan is everyone’s goal.

Our front line nurses have information to share that would be very helpful at the state level. We have a lot to offer Governor Snyder and the Michigan Department of Community Health that will help protect Michigan’s citizens. Nurses have the public’s respect but it’s a shame they don’t have the Governor’s.

Fortunately, Michigan’s nurses have the respect of organizations like University of Michigan Health System (UMHS). Earlier this week, MNA announced contract language negotiated with UMHS to protect nurses when they provide care for an Ebola patient, which may be the first contract of its kind in the nation.

In a press release, Katie Oppenheim, RN, president of the University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council, which represents over 5,000 registered nurses at UMHS, called the language “groundbreaking.”

Nurses have stepped up and volunteered to care for Ebola patients. Now they can do so knowing that their lives and their income will be protected should they become exposed to the Ebola virus.

The contract focuses heavily on safety for the nurses. In addition to standards for training and PPE, the contract language guarantees that nurses won’t lose their salary or have to use paid time off or extended sick leave if they’re quarantined due to a suspected exposure to the Ebola virus or become infected with the Ebola virus. What’s more, the hospital will pay for all medical treatment and follow-up including psychological testing if warranted.

Equally important, nurses who have been quarantined or are recovering from the Ebola virus may return to their previous position, hours of work and shift once declared Ebola free.

According to Karebian, the contract is not only important for the UMHS nurses but it sets the standard for all hospitals in Michigan and the United States.

Nurses who are willing to risk their lives to care for these extremely infectious patients should not have to worry about their income and job at the same time. MNA and UMHS are leading the way in making sure nurses have the optimum protection in all areas when caring for an Ebola patient.

Ann Kettering Sincox, MNA’s PR & communications liaison, told me that MNA was proactive about negotiating the contract language, even as UMHS had started working on Ebola preparedness.

It was very much a collaborative effort. Both parties wanted to make sure any nurses caring for an Ebola patient were protected both in equipment and benefits.

MNA has a long history of working hard to make sure our nurses are protected in the workplace. Having Ebola enter the United States was an unexpected event for everyone, but both MNA and UMHS were determined to make sure the nurses could provide care without worrying about their personal protection.

Sincox told me that the MNA is in discussion with many other hospitals about using the same contract language as in the UMHS contract. The MNA will also continue pushing for Governor Snyder to meet with them and establish statewide standards to ensure Ebola preparedness and protections for patients, nurses and the community.

Nurses, healthcare workers and the general public can sign an online petition requesting that Governor Snyder mandate a state standard for Ebola care.

[Images via the Michigan Nurses Association Facebook page.]