NYSNA rally Montefiore

CAN'T WASTE ANY MORE TIME: The New York State Nurses Association and other advocate groups Nov. 19 pushed for improved air ventilation, safe-staffing and personal protective equipment at Montefiore Medical Center’s Moses Campus in order to prepare for a second surge of COVID. Staff said their pleas for management to hire more nurses at the Bronx facility have fallen on deaf ears.

Staff at Montefiore Medical Center’s Moses Campus in the Bronx say that the hospital isn’t ready for a second wave of COVID and rallied Nov. 19 for additional nurses, improved ventilation systems and personal protective equipment.

The New York State Nurses Association said that the Montefiore, which has locations in The Bronx and Westchester, is short-staffed and should have spent recent months hiring nurses to prepare for an uptick in cases.

Nurses said that they often cared for up to 10 patients at a time during the height of the pandemic, twice the rate permitted under their contract.

'We're Short 500 Nurses'

“Eighteen months ago, Montefiore promised to hire almost 400 nurses, that’s how short we were,” said NYSNA President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, who is also a nurse at Montefiore. “What do we have today? We’re short 500 nurses. We are tired of broken promises.”

Staff said that during the chaos, they were often asked to handle medications and equipment they were not trained to use. The one-day training Montefiore has provided wasn’t sufficient, nurses at the facility in Norwood said. They also urged against policies that would require them to reuse personal protective equipment.

“We’re sounding the alarm as we’re about to face another crisis. We’re no more prepared now than we were during the first wave,” said Una Davis, a Surgical Step-Down Nurse at Montefiore Moses. “Our plea to Montefiore leadership to prepare for a second COVID wave has fallen on deaf ears.”

A spokeswoman for Montefiore responded in a statement that "the medical community knows much more about COVID today than it did during the first surge; Montefiore is more prepared than ever, including a stockpile of PPE that exceeds the [state Department of Health's] 90-day requirement."

After the rally, the coalition of hospital staff, community groups and elected officials marched to Woodlawn Cemetery to honor those who have died from COVID.

Strike in New Rochelle?

On that same day, NYSNA submitted a 10-day strike notice at Montefiore’s New Rochelle hospital over similar safety concerns that have gone unaddressed.

Renee Tucker, a nurse at the Moses Campus, said that the nurses have been asking hospital management to improve the air quality at the facility since June.

“We need ventilation and filtration to stop this disease from spreading. But they have told us they have not added ventilation to any rooms at all. Don’t call us heroes and then spit in our faces,” she said.

The group also pushed back against Montefiore’s decision to close the critical-care units in its Mount Vernon facility, which serves predominantly black and brown patients.

The advocates called on hospital management to protect staff and patients in low-income communities. Residents in the Bronx have disproportionately high rates of diseases such as diabetes and asthma, and have been the most harmed by COVID.

Lawsuit Dismissed

In April, NYSNA filed a lawsuit alleging that Montefiore failed to protect staff by not supplying sufficient personal protective equipment such as N95 respirators. The union also charged that management refused to address health hazards raised by the union—including its objection to the hospital's requirement that the nurses use the same gown while caring for more than one patient—and rejected staffers' requests to be tested. The suit was dismissed.

Ms. Sheridan-Gonzalez noted that the Montefiore hospitals had the highest rate of staff infections in the state.

“Workers got sick by the thousands, and some of us died,” she said. “Montefiore, listen to your nurses. We are done waiting.”

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