By Alex Dobuzinskis
(Reuters) - Nearly 20,000 nurses went on strike in California on Tuesday over patient care issues that include what their union views as insufficient protection for nurses who may care for patients stricken with the deadly Ebola virus, in a prelude to broader national protests expected on Wednesday.
The two-day California strike, by nurses whose union is in the midst of acrimonious contract talks, targeted 86 hospitals and clinics operated by Kaiser Permanente in the northern part of the state and two hospitals run by other healthcare providers, according to National Nurses United.
"Inadequate preparedness for Ebola symbolizes the erosion of patient care standards generally," National Nurses United spokesman Charles Idelson said. "We have a lot of patient care issues that we have presented to them that they have stonewalled and ignored."
A Kaiser Permanente representative could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, but the organization has previously accused the union of using Ebola as a pretext to justify labor action.
The strike came a day ahead of a broader planned protest by National Nurses United set for Wednesday involving 100,000 nurses in 15 U.S. states and the District of Columbia over complaints that hospitals are poorly equipped to handle potential Ebola patients. The roughly 20,000 striking California nurses will be part of that campaign.
An Ebola epidemic in West Africa has killed over 4,900 people this year, although there are no current Ebola cases in the United States. A handful of patients have been treated in U.S. hospitals, including a Liberian man who passed the disease to two nurses before dying of it at a Dallas hospital.
On Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had ordered $2.7 million in personal protective equipment to help hospitals care for Ebola patients, in what the agency described as a limited supply of materials to meet the short-term needs of hospitals. A CDC representative could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
National Nurses United contends that hospitals still do not have enough hazardous materials suits that leave no skin exposed nor enough powered air-purifying respirators to properly protect nurses from exposure to Ebola.
Most nurses participating in the campaign on Wednesday will not walk off the job, Idelson said. Instead, they will hold vigils and rallies at numerous locations, including outside the White House.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Eric Walsh)