Following the first confirmed case of a patient in the U.S. who has been infected with the Ebola virus, the largest U.S. organization of nurses has warned that U.S. hospitals are “far from ready for the Ebola outbreak, are sorely lacking in other disaster planning, and everyone needs to do more to stop Ebola,” according to a prepared statement by the National Nurses United.

Several weeks ago, National Nurses United (NNU) began surveying registered nurses across the U.S. about emergency preparedness.  Preliminary results from more than 400 RNs in more than two dozen states indicate:

    • More than 60 percent of RNs say their hospital is not prepared for the Ebola virus.

    • 80 percent say their hospital has not communicated to them any policy regarding potential admission of patients infected by Ebola

    • 85 percent say their hospital has not provided education on Ebola

    • 30 percent say their hospital has insufficient supplies of eye protection (face shields or side shields with goggles) and fluid resistant gowns

    • 65 percent say their hospital fails to reduce the number of patients they must care for to accommodate caring for an “isolation” patient

Last week, more than 1,000 U.S. RNs, joined by nurses and other health workers from around the world, held a die-in on the strip in Las Vegas to register their concern about inadequate preparation in U.S. hospitals, as well as calling for a significant escalation in global efforts to stop the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Nurses in red scrubs were led by a contingent of health workers wearing replicas of hazmat suits to suggest the protective gear required when tending to patients with Ebola. Nurses and other health workers have been infected and died in what the World Health Organization calls “unprecedented” numbers.

Speaking at the action, NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro warned it was time for people to stop acting “like this epidemic is not going to come here, it is going to come here. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”  

DeMoro warned it was time for dramatic responses to occur “right now. When these patients come to your hospital, it’s not going to be the corporations or the people on Capitol Hill who are going to be there; it’s nurses, and unless we have adequate preparation, we’re putting people in harm’s way.”  

NNU recently announced that it had arranged the donation of 1,000 hazmat-style protective suits for nurses, doctors and other health workers fighting the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and is continuing to seek additional donation from garment manufacturers and hospitals.

A recent report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General warned the U.S. is ill-equipped to handle a major pandemic, despite the federal government allocating at least $47 million to prepare for it since 2006, according to the NNU. 

“This potential exposure of patients and healthcare workers demonstrates the critical need for planning, preparedness and protection at the highest level in hospitals throughout the nation”, said Bonnie Castillo, RN, director of NNU’s Registered Nurse Response Network, which is coordinating the RN response.

“The clock is ticking. It is long past time to act,” Castillo said. Preparedness for disease outbreaks is a long standing problem, note the nurses, citing the death of a U.S. nurse in a California hospital infected during the H1N1 outbreak in 2009.

NNU is calling for:

        • All U.S. hospitals to immediately implement a full emergency preparedness plan for Ebola, or other disease outbreaks. That includes full training of hospital personnel along with proper protocols and training materials for responding to outbreaks, adequate supplies of all personal protective equipment, properly equipped isolation rooms to assure patient, visitor and staff safety, and sufficient staffing to supplement nurses and other health workers who need to care for patients in isolation.

       • Significant increases in provision of aid, financial, personnel, and protective equipment, from the U.S., other governments, and private corporate interests to the nations in West Africa directly affected to contain and stop the spread of Ebola.

        • Proper funding of international disaster relief and global health agencies whose budgets have been cut as a result of austerity measures implemented by the wealthiest nations.

        • Stepped up action on the climate crisis which has contributed to the spread of disease outbreaks. Scientific American in 2008 named Ebola, which is directly affected by drought-related deforestation, as one of a dozen epidemics likely to be spurred by climate change, according to the NNU.