The New York State Nurses Association is fighting potential cuts to the city’s public-hospital system while pushing for reusable respirators that could protect workers in case there is a second wave of the coronavirus.
The union has been urging medical centers, including NYC Health + Hospitals, to acquire 90 days' worth of personal protective equipment now that the number of COVID cases in the city and state has significantly declined. But in addition to N95 masks, NYSNA wants hospital staff to be equipped with elastomeric respirators—air-purifying, reusable respirators.
Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, the president of NYSNA, explained that the equipment was “very protective” and cost between $20 and $30 each.
Longer-Lasting, So Cheaper
“They last for years, and in the long run they’re cheaper—you just need to change the valves,” she said after a Sept. 9 press conference at Elmhurst Hospital, which became the epicenter of the virus because of COVID’s disproportionate impact on low-income communities and communities of color.
Having reusable respirators, as well as non-permeable reusable gowns, would help address one of the major issues during the height of the pandemic, which was the shortage of personal protective equipment, Ms. Sheridan-Gonzalez said. Because supplies were limited, NYC H+H encouraged staff to use N95 respirators for five days—four longer than previously recommended—putting hospital workers at risk.
“We just don’t have faith in what we’re told is the supply. Is a 90-day supply assuming that you’re going to reuse a mask for 3 days? Or a week? Or for a day?” she asked.
But H+H is facing a potential 20-percent cut in funding—which would be a loss of $810 million—due to a state budget shortfall caused by the economic shutdown. Mayor de Blasio has threatened up to 22,000 city layoffs in order to close the city's $9-billion deficit if additional Federal relief or increased borrowing authority from Albany isn't provided.
Ahmed Eshun, a Psych Nurse and the vice-president of Elmhurst Hospital’s labor-bargaining team, said that one lesson the pandemic has taught is that the hospitals need to be prepared.
'Cutting Makes No Sense'
“What we had without the cuts wasn’t enough, so if we do cut, what is going to happen? It doesn’t make sense,” he said.
Union members, alongside elected officials, gathered outside Elmhurst to oppose any cuts and call for a tax on billionaires.
Judith Cutchin, director-at-large at H+H’s Woodhull Hospital, pointed out that because public hospitals have faced decades of under-funding, some had death rates from COVID that were three times higher than well-funded private facilities.
City Council Member Donovan Richards called it “abysmal” that hospital staff needed to fight against potential cuts during a pandemic.
“Everybody likes to celebrate front-line workers. But the bottom line is that they don’t need rhetoric, they need money,” he said.
Slip of Ingratitude
State Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz was disgusted that the same hospital staff who treated patients when the crisis was at its worst could now be facing “a ‘thank you’ in the form of a pink slip, after everything you did," she said.
"Many of you got sick, and some of your colleagues died.”
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