- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The nation’s largest union of registered nurses on Tuesday renewed its call for better workplace protection against Ebola.

And this time, it took its complaints to the doorstep of the Labor Department.

National Nurses United said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) should flex its authority by mandating every hospital in America to provide “optimal” protective gear against the deadly virus that has killed roughly 5,000 in West Africa and infected two of the Dallas nurses who treated Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who flew to Texas and later died from Ebola.

NNU co-President Karen Higgins said federal officials should follow the lead of California’s occupational safety agency, which last week mandated that hospitals provide the type of equipment the union has been asking for since Ebola hit U.S. shores.

“OSHA can and must act as well,” she said.

That includes full-body protective suits that cannot be penetrated by blood or viruses, and powered air respirators with a full cowl or hood to protect the face, head and neck.

Kenneth Zinn, the union’s political director, said U.S. labor officials must act quickly because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can only issue guidance on how to combat Ebola. Orders from Washington would give nurses the protection they need without forcing them to go public with complaints against the individual hospitals that employ them.

“They could be risking their jobs,” he said.

Participants in the rally huddled in the shadow of Capitol Hill, battling a frigid wind to unfurl banners that faced traffic along busy Constitution Avenue.

One of them, aimed at federal guidance on protective equipment, read: “Multiple choice is not a standard.”

Although several U.S. Ebola patients have been successfully treated and cured, Martin Salia, a Sierra Leone doctor who lives in Maryland and had been working in his native country, died of the disease early Monday at a medical center in Nebraska. He was in the late stages of the disease when he arrived for treatment.

President Obama, prior to meeting with his Ebola response team Tuesday, said despite Salia’s death, “we’ve established that when Ebola is properly diagnosed and treated, we have a great chance of curing it.”

The president wants Congress to authorize his $6.2 billion request to fund efforts to beat back Ebola at home and abroad. He said attention on the epidemic “has ebbed over the last several weeks, but the challenge remains.”

Likewise, union members who gathered at the Labor Department Tuesday noted that the holiday season is coming, so there will be an increased risk of Ebola as health care workers and others fly back and forth between West Africa and the U.S.

Ms. Higgins and Mr. Zinn were joined Tuesday by several NNU members who wore stickers reading, “I am Nina Pham,” referring to the first to be infected while treating Duncan in Dallas. Ms. Pham and her colleague, Amber Vinson, were treated for Ebola at special treatment centers and released.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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