COVID-19: Advocating for nurses

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, WSNA remains committed to fighting for your rights. By lifting your voices to public officials, we’ve been able to help enact policies and actions that directly impact your health and safety on the front lines.

Wa nurse covid advocacy
Nurses at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle hold a #SilenceKills sign. In spring 2020, WSNA mounted a social media campaign in support of fellow health care professionals speaking out about a lack of PPE, training and proper infection control measures in various facilities around the state.

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, WSNA remains committed to fighting for your rights. By lifting your voices to public officials, we’ve been able to help enact policies and actions that directly impact your health and safety on the front lines.

Two of these actions, a Joint Hazard Alert in September and Governor Jay Inslee’s Proclamation in December, highlighted the need for more protections for health care workers and patients.

Hazard Alert on hospital worker safety

Concern over COVID-19 cases in hospital workers prompted the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) and the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) to issue a Joint Hazard Alert on Sept. 17 that clarified steps hospitals must take to protect employees and patients from hospital-acquired COVID-19. The Hazard Alert followed weeks of advocacy by WSNA and other health care unions, as well as a significant COVID-19 outbreak at CHI St. Michael’s Hospital.

The Hazard Alert highlighted key worker safety and health requirements and guidance on employee training, proper use of respirators and personal protective equipment (PPE), social distancing, disinfecting procedures, and the importance of a comprehensive infection control program.

Key requirements included:

  • ALL staff must be trained on COVID-19 procedures, infection control procedures, how to report a potential COVID-19 exposure, and how to don and doff masks, respirators and other personal protective equipment safely.
  • COVID-19 positive and COVID-19 suspected patients must be physically isolated from non-infected persons.
  • Disposable respirators and procedural masks must be replaced daily at the beginning of each shift for every employee and immediately upon employee request when soiled or damaged during the shift. Multiple shift use of disposable respirators/masks is NOT allowed.
  • Employees who enter the room of a patient with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 must follow Standard Precautions and use a NIOSH-approved N95 or equivalent or higher-level respirator, gown, gloves and eye protection.
  • Hospital respirator procedures must ensure that all respirator users are medically cleared, fit tested and trained.
  • PAPRs/CAPRs may only be used if they are within manufacturers’ acceptable conditions.
  • Staff are prohibited from working or being on the premises if exposed to COVID-19, and all staff who test positive must be excluded from work and isolated according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

Governor’s Proclamation on non-urgent medical and dental procedures

In December, Gov. Inslee issued an updated proclamation regulating health system actions during the pandemic. The proclamation, which went into effect Dec. 2, outlined additional requirements for health and dental facilities to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks.

WSNA successfully advocated for the following provisions for hospitals that:

  • Required hospitals to provide rapid exposure notification and test results. Hospitals are required to notify employees of any high-risk COVID-19 exposure within 24 hours. Following exposure, hospitals are required to provide employees with rapid COVID-19 test results, specifying that results must be delivered within 24 hours of specimen collection. If the health care facility is unable to provide testing results within this time frame, the employee should be referred to another testing site.
  • Required surveillance testing in times of non-conventional PPE use. If hospitals face a shortfall of PPE and must implement contingency or crisis use of PPE, then they must implement randomized (voluntary) COVID-19 surveillance testing for employees and must do so in consultation with the local health department.
  • Required accurate PPE reporting and development of a PPE work group. Hospitals are required to report accurate quantities of PPE supplies and bed capacity to the WA HEALTH database daily. Additionally, hospitals are required to convene a work group comprised of management, employees and union representatives twice per month to review current PPE levels, projected PPE burn rates and projected delivery of PPE supplies.
  • Required hospitals to follow certain laws to continue providing non-urgent care. Hospitals are mandated to follow nurse staffing, meal and rest breaks, and mandatory overtime laws when providing non-urgent services, procedures and surgeries.

As your union, WSNA will continue to work with nurse representatives to file Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) complaints immediately when the requirements outlined in the Hazard Alert or Governor’s Proclamation are not being followed.

WSNA joins unions in lawsuit against OSHA

On Oct. 29, WSNA joined the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the United Nurses Association of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP) in a lawsuit against Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for unlawfully delaying rulemaking on an occupational standard to protect health care workers from infectious diseases transmitted by contact, droplets or air — like influenza, COVID-19 and Ebola.

The Trump administration tabled work on an Infectious Diseases Standard in 2017, and the administration’s unreasonable delay to move forward with the standard during the COVID-19 pandemic violates the Administrative Procedure Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) and puts health care workers at risk.

Thank you to the three brave WSNA nurses who stepped forward to share their stories as a part of the lawsuit. WSNA is pursuing every available means, from the local facility to the national level, to get nurses the protections they need.

The lawsuit filing was reported by media outlets across the country, including in the Washington Post, Common Dreams and Cox Media, which ran on KIRO7 in Seattle and featured an interview with WSNA member Linda Adye-Whitish.