In honor of National Nurses Week, the New York State Nurses Association has one request: for government officials to listen to front-line workers’ advice on what steps are needed before the city and state can be reopened.
Members of the union gathered May 7 at Brooklyn Hospital Center to outline the steps that need to be taken to protect residents and those workers from potential future outbreaks of coronavirus.
State's Seven Rules
Last week, the state released seven benchmarks counties must meet before they can begin reopening, including a 14-consecutive-day drop in hospitalizations and deaths.
NYSNA Executive Director Pat Kane said that the nurses want to be brought to the table regarding such decisions, contending that many of their requests and advice during the earliest days of the pandemic were ignored.
“We were let down on our PPE from the Federal Government. We were let down when it came to staffing our facilities,” she said. “We hope and pray that this time you will listen to the front-line workers in this fight.”
The union released a “Reopening Report,” which called for universal rapid coronavirus testing for all front-line workers and hospital patients, stronger, reusable respirators for hospital staff, and enough personal protective equipment for all essential workers, including grocery-store staff and public transportation workers.
'Essential' Yet Expendable
NYSNA President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, who also is a nurse at Montefiore Medical Center, said that essential workers “have proven to be expendable” because “thousands” of them have died from COVID-19.
“We don’t want our numbers to increase, and we surely don’t want to be joined by countless thousands of innocent workers sent back to work too soon, unprotected, undefended and abandoned by government, business and many employers, as we were,” she said.
For years, NYSNA has pushed for safe staffing levels, and nurse shortages that existed long before the pandemic contributed to ICU nurses being required to care for four or five of the most-vulnerable patients at once, the union stated. Catherine Whiteman-Primus and Sharon Rivera, both nurses at Brooklyn Hospital Center, said that the facility was not prepared for the influx of coronavirus patients.
Accommodating health-care workers who are pregnant or have pre-existing health conditions with non-COVID work and providing 14 days or more of paid sick leave for hospital staff who contract the virus were also on the list of recommendations. The union has sued the state Health Department for failing to protect health-care workers, citing a mandate that medical staff who contract the coronavirus must return to work after seven days, even if they were still showing symptoms.
“The hospitals need to have a plan before we go back as usual,” said Nancy Hagans, the treasurer for NYSNA.
Stockpile for Next Wave
The report also called on government officials to begin stockpiling personal protective equipment ahead of a potential second wave of cases, and for the state to coordinate the purchase and distribution of PPE.
“It can’t be that a hospital like this is on their own to secure a 90-day supply of PPE,” Ms. Kane said, referring to the fact that the Brooklyn Hospital Center has seen its share of budget problems, including previously filing for bankruptcy.
The union also pushed for the rescinding of $2.5 billion in Medicaid cuts in the state budget that took effect last month. The state is projecting a $13.3-billion deficit due to the impact of COVID-19, with aid for localities, including safety-net hospitals, expected to be slashed.
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