Nurses rally over H1N1 dangers

August 5, 2009 7:37:31 PM PDT
Bay Area nurses are worried about their safety -- danger, they say, from the H1N1 virus-- swine flu. On Wednesday, nurses protested what they claim is a lack of readiness by hospitals to protect them from the virus this flu season.

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The flu season doesn't officially begin until October, but the nurses are concerned because the swine flu virus is already active.

They're on the front lines of the pandemic and they're afraid that hospitals are not prepared.

These nurses say hospitals are putting front line caregivers at risk.

"Already we've had a registered nurse die as a result of exposure to the H1N1 flu," said California Nurses Association President Deborah Burger.

Karen Hays, a Sacramento nurse died July 17th after contracting the virus. That was the first death from swine flu among caregivers in the state.

The rally was held at UCSF to protest the firing of a nurse who complained to management about inadequate safeguards after she got the virus.

The nurse does not want to be identified.

"It's a really serious thing when the management won't protect you and by extension, the patients that you're taking care of," she said.

Among the nurses complaints at the rally -- unclear hospital policies on responding to the pandemic and the lack of safety gear such as appropriate masks.

They point to an incident last month at Solano Medical Center.

Janet Braillard was one of 10 nurses at the hospital who became ill with what doctors say is likely the H1N1 flu.

The nurses say they were exposed because they were told to re-use masks. The hospital responded by saying masks can be re-used for an entire shift before discarding them.

ABC7 called several Bay Area hospitals and none would comment on the nurses' charges.

The California Hospital Association reacted to the allegations this way: "We don't respond to charges by the nurses association. They make false accusations all the time. The CHA is working closely with the state public health dept on this issue."

UCSF says it fired the nurse, not because of her complaints but because of "job performance factors."

The H1N1 virus first hit California in early April. In just four months, the state reports the virus has claimed 80 lives and 36 are in the Bay Area. And remember?it's not even flu season.

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