On April 20, the New York State Nurses Association (“NYSNA”) filed three lawsuits challenging the failure of the New York State Department of Health (“DOH”) and two hospitals, Montefiore Medical Center and Westchester Medical Center, to protect the health and safety of nurses treating COVID-19 patients.
By compromising the health and safety of the nurses, the DOH and the two hospitals jeopardize patients, their families and the communities in which they live. All three suits expose, among other failures: not providing impermeable gowns and other PPE to cover RNs bodies; not properly training RNs redeployed from hospital units; inadequate provision of safe working conditions for high-risk employees, including pregnant RNs. Overall, the nurses have not received appropriate masks and carry out assignments in unsafe working conditions.
“More than seven in ten of our nurses are reporting exposure to COVID-19 and most are still untested. These lawsuits were filed to protect our nurses, our patients and our communities from grossly inadequate and negligent protections,” said NYSNA Executive Director Pat Kane, RN. “We cannot allow these dangerous practices to continue.”
The lawsuit against DOH was filed in New York Supreme Court, New York County, under Article 78 – seeking an injunction for multiple failures to protect the health of nurses, patients and the public. Among other things, this suit seeks to enforce Governor Cuomo’s directive of April 13 that each direct care nurse be given at least one N95 respirator daily. The suit alleges a failure to provide sick leave afforded to all New Yorkers and forcing nurses to come to work sick – putting their co-workers, patients, families and communities at risk.
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Montefiore was sued in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of the 3,000 RNs at the hospital, seeking injunctive relief under the Labor Management Relations Act to honor its contractual obligations. This injunctive action seeks to restore safe working conditions for nurses and their patients.
The action against Westchester Medical Center was filed in New York Supreme Court, Westchester County, on behalf of the 1,600 RNs seeking an injunction against hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to nurses. Among the causes of action: intimidation of RNs who have spoken out publicly about deficiencies in the hospital’s responses to COVID-19.
“… I began experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19, including cough and fever. I reported my symptoms to Montefiore and asked for testing. I was informed that Montefiore would not test me….I obtained testing on my own.. [and] found out that I tested positive for COVID-19.” Affidavit of Pamela Brown-Richardson, RN, Montefiore Medical Center
“Initially, Westchester Medical Center gave me only one N95 respirator, which I was required to use for a week’s time… Because it was too big…I was exposed to infectious airborne molecules that could reach my nose and mouth.” Affidavit of Liesl Van Ledjte, RN, Westchester Medical Center
“I still had COVID-19 symptoms… Notwithstanding this, a supervisor in the staffing office directed me to report to work. That same day … I was informed that I had tested positive for COVID-19.” Affidavit of Hilary Schneck, RN, Vassar Brothers Medical Center
“For the entire time my unit has been used to treat COVID-19 patients,… I was not provided adequate PPE… . I was given only one N95 respirator to use for an entire week, which was stored in a brown paper bag… . I was also directed to use the same gown with multiple COVID-19 patients…. I tested at a facility outside SIUH and… and tested positive… . SIUH strongly encouraged me to return to work after 7 days even though I am still experiencing symptoms.” Affidavit of Cristal Torres, RN, Staten Island University Hospital-Northwell
To view court documents, click HERE.
For more information, please visit nysna.org
Photo credits Nurses in front of Harlem Hospital.