Amid statewide and national clashes between nurses’ unions, hospital systems and state governments on the issue, the Michigan Nurses Association and the University of Michigan Health System have negotiated a contract to offer specific Ebola protections to nurses should the need arise.

The contract, signed Monday between the MNA, the largest nurses association in the state, and UMHS, the largest hospital system in the state, outlines specific regulations for personal protective equipment, referred to as PPE, and safety training for Ebola preparation for all UMHS nurses. It also outlines the measures of job and salary security that nurses who may have to undergo quarantine or treatment for Ebola can expect.

MNA Executive Director John Karebian said the agreement is a unique step forward in the protection it affords nurses.

“I believe this is the only agreement of its kind anywhere in the country, at least from research that we’ve done,” Karebian said. “We don’t believe that there’s any other place where the union and management have come together and said that they need to prepare to take care of potential patients with Ebola and work together to do that. So I think in that respect, this is very unique, but we plan to try to negotiate this with other institutions as well.”

Aside from an assurance that nurses will receive proper PPE and training, the contract contains three major provisions. The first and second provisions state that nurses will not lose any salary or be forced to use their “Paid Time Off” or “Extended Sick Leave” provisions if they are quarantined due to Ebola or if they actually contract the disease. The third provision states that the hospital will pay for all medical treatment and follow-ups, including psychological testing, if a nurse contracts Ebola.

Throughout the negotiation process, UMHS has implemented measures as they’ve been agreed upon so as to not hinder Ebola preparedness, Karebian said. He also said the contract will remain fluid to allow for further improvements if necessary.

“It’s going to change as we learn more and nurses become more trained,” he said. “We will learn from those things and we might have to make some adjustments. We have a nursing taskforce for Ebola preparedness put together that will meet twice per week to continue to look at what we will need to do to change and do better.”

To prepare for the unlikely scenario that Ebola arrives in Ann Arbor, UMHS has already established a general response plan to address the virus.

The contract comes in the midst of conversation about statewide preparedness for the disease. Though Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has said Michigan hospitals are prepared for Ebola, a recent MNA poll showed that more than 80 percent of Michigan nurses don’t believe their hospital has provided them with proper training on how to treat this virus.

“My message to the governor and to the state is that we want to see more consistent practices in hospitals,” Karebian said. “And we believe that the Department of Community Health and the governor should step up and say, ‘Yes, we need to ensure that hospitals are prepared.’ And it’s not enough just to say it; they have to be prepared.”

The MNA’s complaints reflect nationwide dissatisfaction expressed by nurses through National Nurses United and state nurses unions, which has organized a “Day of Action” Wednesday in protest of a perceived lack of preparedness for Ebola. In California, 18,000 nurses plan to strike for two days starting Tuesday.

The MNA is organizing its own event. It is planning to send a delegation to Snyder Wednesday morning to ask him to meet with the union.

“We decided that since we couldn’t get him to our building, we would go to him,” said Ann Sincox, public relations and communications liaison for the MNA. “So we are going to meet on Wednesday at 11:30 in front of the Romney Building. We have quite a few nurses coming and a mobile billboard and we are going to invite him to come down and join us.”

Sincox said the overall goal for the MNA is to achieve a state standard for Ebola preparation.

“We feel the governor needs to work with the Michigan Department of Community Health, and of course we’re more than happy to join in on that, to make a state standard so that everyone is prepared adequately, regardless of what happens,” she said.

Sincox added that though nurses in other states are taking more drastic measures such as protests and strikes, the MNA believes that a state standard for Ebola preparation can be negotiated with state officials.

“Some states are having protests; there are a couple of states actually having nurses walk off,” she said. “That’s not really where we’re at on this. We think going for the state standard makes more sense. We think that’s a more collaborative thing, an area we think we can do some growth in.”

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