AFT Calls for H1N1 Protection for Healthcare Workers

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On the brink of the fall flu season, the AFT has asked the secretaries of two federal agencies to ensure that frontline healthcare workers receive appropriate protective equipment to prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus, and recommended a federal standard for comprehensive pandemic influenza plans.

In a Sept. 10 letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, AFT president Randi Weingarten referred to a Sept. 3 report by the Institute of Medicine, which concluded that airborne transmission is one of the likely routes of exposure to influenza. The report stated unequivocally that respirators approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health—not surgical masks—are necessary to protect healthcare workers and their patients.

"Those healthcare workers directly interacting with symptomatic individuals must be supplied with fit-tested respirators, and this must apply in hospitals, schools, homes and clinics," Weingarten wrote. "The information coming from all federal agencies must be clear and consistent, and should be mirrored in information from state agencies, as well." The AFT represents nurses and other healthcare workers in schools, hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

The AFT also pointed out the lack of comprehensive pandemic influenza plans in many healthcare facilities, schools and other institutions.

"We believe, in light of the current pandemic, regulation is needed to prod employers into a meaningful response," Weingarten said. The AFT recommended that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration prepare an emergency temporary H1N1 standard that could be based on California's airborne disease transmission standard, and that should include protection for healthcare workers and the vulnerable populations they care for in healthcare facilities, schools and other high-occupancy institutions.

September 10, 2009