Cynthia Leonor Garza
WASHINGTON—Healthcare facilities are woefully unprepared to protect healthcare workers in the event of an influenza pandemic, and they lack the necessary plans, training and coordination with public health departments, the American Federation of Teachers said today of a survey conducted by the AFL-CIO entitled "Healthcare Workers In Peril: Preparing To Protect Worker Health and Safety During Pandemic Influenza."
A report on the survey of six healthcare unions, including AFT Healthcare, was presented at a briefing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee today. The report concluded that healthcare facilities are not adequately prepared to protect healthcare workers-first responders-during an influenza pandemic. A full copy of the report is available at www.HealthCareWorkersInPeril.org .
"If there was an influenza pandemic today, our healthcare facilities would be overwhelmed, healthcare workers would be exposed to great risk, and patients wouldn't get the care they would require," said AFT Healthcare chair Candice Owley, who is also an AFT vice president. "Preparation is the key in properly handling disasters. The AFT strongly urges Congress to address the current weaknesses in the healthcare system's ability to respond effectively, and to provide more resources to ensure the safety of both the public and healthcare workers."
The survey found that while healthcare facilities have made strides toward better preparation for a pandemic, more needs to be done. According to the survey:
Training, communication and other planning elements are significantly inadequate in most surveyed facilities.
One-third of respondents said their facilities have no pandemic flu plan whatsoever.
A substantial number of the surveyed facilities have not developed policies to address crucial issues such as absenteeism of workers, family leave to care for sick family members, and guidelines for dealing with workers showing signs of illness.
The AFT is particularly concerned with healthcare facilities' lack of adequate preparedness training, written plans that designate essential personnel, preventive health and safety programs, and coordination with local, county and state health departments.
Recommendations in the report include setting national workplace standards that address airborne-transmissible diseases, as well as developing a comprehensive worker training and compliance strategy. The report also recommends that Congress evaluate the funding and readiness of state and local influenza plans.