COVID-19: Advocating for nurses

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.