10 Vallejo nurses say they have swine flu

July 14, 2009 6:52:00 PM PDT
Nurses caring for swine flu patients at Vallejo's Sutter Solano Medical Center say there has been an outbreak of the illness among them -- and they are blaming the hospital for it.

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There has been one swine flu death in Solano County and Sutter Solano Medical Center is currently treating two patients who have the virus, so the complaints being levied pose serious concerns for health care officials. Tuesday, investigators from the California division of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration were at the hospital asking questions.

"I was treated with antibiotics; I was sick for about 10 days, Sutter Solano nurse Janet Braillard said.

Ten intensive care unit nurses at the Sutter Solano Medical Center became ill with what doctors say is likely the swine flu. Braillard is one of them.

The nurses believe they contracted the H1N1 virus while caring for patients at work.

"I did go to management last week, I was told that they would look into it and when I returned to work on Sunday, I found out there was no change," Braillard said.

The nurses filed a complaint with Cal/OSHA, accusing the hospital of refusing to provide enough respiratory masks for them.

The CDC advises hospital workers who come in contact with swine flu patients to wear masks specially fitted on each nurse and sealed tightly to the face to keep the virus out.

The nurses and their union say the hospital claimed there was a shortage of the masks.

"They told nurses that they should put the makes into a plastic bag and use it again and again," California Nurses Association spokesperson Jan Rodulfo said. "If you have flu virus on the outside of a mask and you stick it in a bag and then pull it out and put it on your face you can imagine what kind of exposure you're putting yourself at risk of."

But Sutter Solano's Chief Nurse Kim Trumbull said there never was a shortage; and of the 10 nurses who fell ill, only one tested positive for the virus.

"They have been misinformed; the CDC guidelines are that the N95 masks can be redonned for an entire shift and then thrown away at the end of the shift and when they return to work they would get another mask," Trumbull said.

Cal/OSHA has launched an investigation, but some nurses on the job are concerned about safety, for themselves and their patients.

"We're endangering other people, other patients, the visitors, our families and any where we go in the hospital," Braillard said.

CDC officials say the department's policy is not as clear as the hospital made it out to be. The CDC says whether nurses should throw the masks away after each use should be decided on a case by case. But the FDA, which regulates medical devices, says the masks are designed for a single use.

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