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Photos: Nurses push for increased COVID measures at St. Joseph's Hospital as part of national protest

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Dozens of nurses and supporters stood in front of St. Joseph's Hospital on Thursday morning as part of a national move to protest working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. - Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

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Dozens of nurses carrying red signs that read "Staff Up for Safe Care" protested in front of a Tucson hospital on Thursday morning, taking part in a nation-wide push for increased staffing and better protections for medical workers against a massive spike in coronavirus cases fueled by the Omicron variant. 

Standing along Wilmot Road near St. Joseph's Hospital, more than 70 men and women pushed for hospitals to invest in "safe staffing," and demanded the Biden administration follow through on a campaign promise to protect nurses and prioritize health care. 

The group focused some of their ire on Tenet Health, the company that operates 60 hospitals and hundreds of outpatient clinics in 37 states, including Arizona, New Mexico, California, and Colorado. Tenet owns eight locations in Tucson, including St. Mary's Hospital and St. Joseph's. 

The effort in Tucson was part of a wider push led by National Nurses United. The union, which represents about 175,000 nurses across the country, held dozens of protests across the nation, including an event in Washington, D.C., where the group planned to hold a candlelight vigil for nurses who have died during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"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," wrote NNU President Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, a registered nurse. "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," Triunfo-Cortez wrote. "So this is a vicious cycle where weakening protections just drives more nurses away from their jobs." 

In a release, NNU said that in December survey of registered nurses 83 percent said at least half of their shifts were "unfairly staffed" and 68 percent said they have considered leaving their job. 

NNU said that in recent weeks, the Biden administration has "ripped away" critical protections for health care workers by weakening the CDC's guidelines on how long a medical professional should remain in isolation after a positive COVID diagnosis. Previously, the CDC required people to wait 10 days, however, in late December, the agency shifted its recommendation to just five days. And, in some hospitals and clinics, COVID-19 positive nurses and doctors can work if they are masked and asymptomatic. 

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"Nurses have fought since day one of this pandemic for protections based on science and the precautionary principle," wrote Triunfo-Cortez. "Our demands included optimal isolation times to prevent further Covid spread and an enforceable OSHA Covid health care industry standard to mandate our profit-driven employers, who would never do it on their own, give us optimal protections at work." 

"Nurses," she wrote "applauded" the Biden administration when OSHA issued an emergency temporary COVID standard in June 2021, and "now we are dumbfounded and enraged that OSHA is rescinding those protections at the same time that the CDC is weakening isolation guidelines to seven days for health care workers and even less time 'if there are staffing shortages.'"

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