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CURRENT ISSUE:  November 9, 2009
VOL. 47, NO. 19   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Home loan protests in Antioch draw Bank of America to negotiating table
Former Martinez pastor recounts Iraq mission as base chaplain
Bishops send bulletin inserts to all parishes on health care reform
Hospitals avert strike
with new flu protocol

California Nurses Association
and Catholic Healthcare West

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The union representing more than 10,000 nurses at California’s largest not-for-profit hospital system has reached a settlement with hospital officials that both sides say sets a national standard to guard against the spread of the H1N1 flu and future pandemics.

Announced Nov. 2, the agreement between the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee and Catholic Healthcare West calls for creating a system-wide emergency task force that includes both nurses and hospital representatives to respond to a declaration of a pandemic emergency.

“What it means to me is that nurses can play an active role within the hospital so that we can get the safety equipment we need,” said Richard Sandness, a registered nurse at Mercy Hospital of Folsom and a member of the union’s bargaining committee.

“Our goal was to have a single standard and go for the highest standard,” he said.

A Catholic Healthcare West official said the 32 hospitals in the system in California and Nevada have been following federal and state standards for the H1N1 virus, also known as the swine flu.

“Since the pandemic was declared last spring we have been taking measures to ensure the health and safety of our patients, employees and communities,” Dr. Robert Wiebe, the system’s senior vice president and chief medical officer, said in a press release. “We are pleased to have CNA’s full collaboration in furthering our efforts.”

The union sought to strengthen safety guidelines in dealing with the H1N1 flu after one of its members died after contracting the disease while on duty early in 2009. The union said protocols governing the response to pandemics varied from hospital to hospital. The issue was a major sticking point during months of contract talks.

The four-year contract calls for all nurses to have appropriate attire and equipment, including single-use respirator masks, to stem the spread of the disease as well as a guarantee that the employer will provide nurses with information and training on communicable diseases to which they may have been exposed.

In addition to the safety standards, wages will rise by 20 percent over the four-year contract.
Other terms call for improving the recruitment and retention of nurses.

The union had targeted Oct. 30 for a one-day strike against Catholic Healthcare West Hospitals as well as four hospitals in the Daughters of Charity Health System and three facilities in the St. Joseph Health System. The labor action was canceled as marathon negotiations that began Oct. 26 moved toward the strike deadline.

An agreement was reached late in the afternoon Oct. 30, Sandness said.

Contract talks with the smaller systems were continuing.

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