Nurses union and healthcare facilities forge emergency preparedness agreement

Emergency Management Alert, February 17, 2009

One problem emergency management directors face is guaranteeing enough staff will come to work in an emergency situation.

The Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) and Allina Hospitals and Clinics have forged an emergency preparedness agreement to help ensure adequate staffing by registered nurses (RN), as well as their health and safety, in the event of a natural disaster, catastrophic event, pandemic illness, or response to terrorism.  The unique agreement, which covers 5,000 RNs employed at Allina facilities, addresses working conditions during emergency response situations, according to a press release from the MNA.
The agreement establishes a group of registered nurses who would supplement existing staff during an emergency response and receive specialized training. Nurses can participate through a voluntary process, which the MNA says removes barriers to involvement and fosters worker safety.

As evidenced by the bridge collapse in Minnesota in 2007, nurses and other first responders go beyond the call of duty when disaster strikes, the nurses union said. Rather than relying on mandatory overtime or involuntary schedule changes for emergency response, the agreement with Allina recognizes employee concerns about safety, liability, and conflicting obligations, such as their own families. The agreement anticipates the need for adequate personal protective equipment such as respirators, and addresses other issues such as worker fatigue and delegation of nursing responsibilities. Concerns about criminal and civil actions directed against healthcare workers in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, also led to provisions to protect nurses who may be subject to investigation or legal action.

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