Nurses Blame Wrong Masks For Swine Flu

State looking into claims

Nurses at Sutter Solano Hospital are claiming the hospital has not provided them with masks to adequately protect them from contracting the H1N1swine flu virus from patients at the Vallejo facility.

Ten nurses have contracted what is believed to be swine flu in the past 10 days, said Shum Preston, spokesman for the California Nurses Association's National Nurses Organizing Committee. The nurses became violently ill and were unable to work, Preston said.

The nurses contacted the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration and inspectors were at the hospital Tuesday, Preston said.

Sutter Solano Hospital spokesman Sy Neilson said the Cal-OSHA inspectors have not filed a final report but they assured Sutter Solano it is in compliance regarding having an adequate supply of the protective N95 masks and their use.

Neilson said the claims by the California Nurses Association are false.

The nurses claim Sutter Solano didn't purchase an adequate number of the N95 masks and after they complained, the hospital supplied new masks on Friday that did not fit properly and prevent the spread of the virus.

Hospital management then ordered the nurses to wear a contact mask on top of the ill-fitting N95 masks but the nurses raised concerns about increased carbon dioxide retention in the mask wearers, Preston said.

Hospital management also gave the nurses a single mask in a plastic bag and were told to use it repeatedly, rendering the masks useless for infection control, Preston said.

Some hospital rooms with infected patients lacked appropriate HEPA filters and proper isolation protocol was not being followed as visitors were moving in and out of contact with infected patients, Preston said.

Neilson said the news release issued by the CNA is the first Sutter Solano heard about the nurses' complaints. He said the nurses have not filed a workers' compensation claim.

Cal-OSHA has also requested additional documentation regarding the masks issue, Neilson said.

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