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Community Forum: Nurses vie for more protections

This week’s writer is Lincoln resident Mari Cordes, president of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. She has been a nurse for almost 27 years, most of that at Fletcher Allen Health Care. She was most recently the nurse educator for the FAHC Vascular Access Department, and co-led nationally award-winning efforts to reduce central line infections.
Message from Health Care Professionals to our community:
We take our commitment to be there for you when you need us very seriously. We know that when you’ve had to seek help, you are vulnerable. When we hear and see your gratitude and support, it adds power to our covenant of care. And we often are in harm’s way in the form of perceivable threats (punches, kicks, spitting, hair pulling, guns, tasers, knives and verbal threats) and the imperceptible threat of pathogenic infections like influenza, or Ebola.
Like you, instead of sensationalism, we want sensible action to protect you, and to protect workers.
That is why, last week, I joined nurses and healthcare leaders from around the country to address this potential crisis with plan that calls for the following:
•  Up-to-date infection-control protocols and worker-preparedness plans at all health facilities.
•  Dedicated, specially trained teams of willing staff — including doctors, nurses, lab and X-ray technicians, and housekeeping staff — to care for potential Ebola patients.
•  Adequate staffing to support care, and to support training and education.
•  Inclusion of frontline providers in the development and implementation of plans.
•  Prompt and regular communication to all employees about planning, including the identification of task force leaders and their roles.
•  Assessment of engineering and physical plant design for isolation areas.
We health professionals do this work willingly and skillfully because we love it. The brave whistleblower nurse from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, Briana Aguirre, did the best she could do with the improper tools she was given by the people whose job it is to protect her. 
While it may be true that an Ebola epidemic in the U.S. is highly unlikely, the Dallas example of being so vastly unprepared for even one case in a country that regards its medical care so highly is unacceptable. In addition, not responding to the crisis in West Africa swiftly and effectively was an astoundingly ignorant and arrogant error.
University of Vermont Health Network (nee Fletcher Allen) has many skilled infection preventionists, nurses and physicians, and are actively training and supporting a specialized team of caregivers. We are working to make sure our caregivers have the up-to-date protection that they need so that we can continue to provide you with the best care possible.
We, the front-line health care professionals across this state and across the country, will care for and protect you well. But we need sensible action and the tools to do so. Help us help you by:
1.  Contacting your health facility’s management today to demand that the skill and experience of front-line health professionals be represented from day 1 in all infection prevention and emergency preparedness planning.
2.  Talking to your state elected leaders to demand adequate funding for public health services, and the reversal of reckless budget decisions that cut nursing and public health staff.
3.  Talking to your federal elected leaders to demand that the Senate stop the yearlong political games with the Surgeon General confirmation. We need our national public health leader in place — confirm Dr. Vivek Murthy now.

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