AMID a steep surge in Covid-19 cases fuelled by the Omicron variant, thousands of nurses on Thursday staged nationwide protests against staff shortage in hospitals and nursing homes across the US.
The protests were held under the banner of National Nurses United (NNU), a labour union with more than 175,000 members nationwide, which called on the hospital industry to ‘invest in safe staffing.’
Hospitals in the US, the worst-hit country in the world, have been struggling to cope with the new tide of Covid-19 cases in recent weeks, as well as worker shortages and burnout.
Nurses are furious over sheer callousness and indifference shown by the government as well as their employers, blaming them for caring about their businesses, not the public health.
The protests took place across 11 US states and Washington, D.C. ‘to demand the hospital industry invest in safe staffing, and to demand that President Biden follow through on his campaign promise to protect nurses and prioritise public health,’ according to the union.
A candlelight vigil was held in Washington, D.C. for nurses who lost their lives to the pandemic. The participants urged the hospital industry to invest in safe staffing, and urged Joe Biden’s administration to follow through on his campaign promise to protect nurses and prioritise public health.
They accused the Biden administration of taking away critical protections from health care workers and the public in recent weeks, with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) weakening Covid-19 isolation guidelines and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announcing that it intends to withdraw critical Covid-19 protections for health care workers.
The highly transmissible omicron variant has been fuelling a surge in new virus cases across the country, and now accounts for 98% of all cases, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
The problem has been compounded by severe staff crunch, insufficient resources and worsening conditions. Health experts say that while the variant may cause less severe symptoms in vaccinated people, it’s still dangerous for people who are unvaccinated.
In a statement on Tuesday, NNU President, Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, said the severe shortage of nurses was making the fight against the pandemic increasingly difficult in the US.
‘As we enter year three of the deadliest pandemic in our lifetimes, nurses are enraged to see that, for our government and our employers, it’s all about what’s good for business, not what’s good for public health,’ said Triunfo-Cortez.
‘Our employers claim there is a ‘nursing shortage’, and that’s why they must flout optimal isolation times, but we know there are plenty of registered nurses in this country.
‘There is only a shortage of nurses willing to work in the unsafe conditions created by hospital employers and this government’s refusal to impose lifesaving standards. So this is a vicious cycle where weakening protections just drives more nurses away from their jobs,’ he hastened to add.
The United States report 1.35 million new coronavirus infections on Monday.
On Thursday, Chicago nurses also joined the protest.