Nurses: Healthcare providers in California, U.S. 'unprepared' to handle coronavirus

Bonnie Castillo, a nurse and executive director of National Nurses United, says hospitals are unprepared to handle the coronavirus. March 5, 2020

Nurses across California and the nation are up in arms about how the coronavirus is being handled, and they plan to present results of a survey on Thursday that they say will show how health care providers are unprepared to handle and contain cases of COVID-19.

The California Nurses Association and National Nurses United held a news conference in Oakland, among other cities, on Thursday, one day after the first corona-related death was reported in California. The death toll nationwide from coronavirus stands at 11. 

The nurses did not name any specific hospital. KTVU reached out to Zuckerberg San Francisco General about the allegations but did not immediately hear back. Sutter Health referred all questions to the national hospitals' association.

Kaiser Permanante issued a lengthy statement to KTVU, disputing the nurses' claims. Kaiser has been working with local, state and federal officials on the screening, testing and care of patients who have coronavirus and said its teams are "properly equipped and prepared to safely care" for patients and any complications that arise from the disease.

Kaiser added they are following all of CDC and state guidance in terms of protective gear and that management has been meeting with the unions to "get their input and address their concerns." 

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But that's not the story the nurses are telling.

Bonnie Castillo, a nurse and executive director of National Nurses United, said that thousands of responses so far show that high percentages of hospitals do not have plans, isolation procedures, and policies in place for COVID-19.

She also said that communication to staff by employers is poor or nonexistent; that hospitals are lacking sufficient stocks of personal protective equipment or are not making current stocks readily available, and have not provided training and practice to staff on how to properly use the equipment.

“Facilities don’t have a plan, or they haven’t explained the plan, or they don’t have the supplies, equipment, and training to carry out any plan,” Castillo said. “The outcome of this chaos is that health care workers, patients, and the entire community are exposed to this virus and needlessly put at risk.” 


The nurses' unions have also petitioned the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration to adopt an emergency temporary standard to protect health care workers, patients, and the public. Currently, no enforceable OSHA infectious diseases standard exists nationally, the nurses said.
The nurses are demanding that health care facility employers, the Trump administration, and federal and state health officials and regulatory bodies make sure that they are safe while caring for the sick.

Some of those demands include:

  • Notifying nurses when a patient could be infected with coronavirus
  • Providing health care staff with proper protective gear
  • Planning better for a surge of possibly infected patients

The nurses are also demanding that any health care worker exposed to COVID-19 should be placed on precautionary leave for at least 14 days and pay them during the full length of that leave.

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