NEW YORK — The New York State Nurses Association plans to file three lawsuits on Monday over a lack of personal protective equipment and what it considers dangerous guidance issued by the state department of health during the coronavirus pandemic — the first legal action of its kind since the outbreak began.
The Montefiore Health System and Westchester Medical Center allegedly did not protect their nurses and provide them with adequate protective equipment — following guidance from the state health department to help health systems ration medical supplies, NYSNA members told POLITICO. The union confirmed a filing is likely Monday in state court.
Nurses have been asked to wear the same masks, gowns, face shields and other equipment for days on end — and find ways to keep the disposable items clean. In some cases, hospitals refused to provide protective equipment to nurses in certain divisions, like dialysis, and many health care workers have developed coronavirus.
The lack of equipment has plagued hospitals throughout the city.
“It is really, really bad. I showed up to work last night, and for each nurse you get a brown bag with one face shield and one N95 mask,” one nurse told POLITICO last month. “There’s bins to recycle the masks. We will soon be running out.”
Nearly three in four NYSNA members reported coronavirus exposure, and 57 percent of members said they had inadequate protective gear, according to a survey of 2,437 registered nurses. About 11 percent of registered nurses tested positive for the virus, NYSNA told POLITICO this week, though nurses said they believe the infection rate in their profession is much higher.
The union represents more than 42,000 nurses across the state.
Nurses have been raising alarms about the lack of equipment since the outbreak began. In unrelated comments last week, NYSNA President Judy Sheridan-González said the nature of New York’s hospital system made it “ill-equipped” to handle the emergency.
“What the Covid-19 pandemic makes clear is that our inefficient, profit-driven health care system is ill-equipped to respond to public health crises, and it’s costing countless lives,” she said. “A functional system would have had the necessary preparations — research and testing capacity, appropriate PPE, ventilators and other equipment, hospital beds, and additional staff trained to care for victims.”
Westchester said the hospital was following state and federal guidelines.
“Like every other healthcare organization in the nation, we are managing our supply use and source pipelines very carefully,” Andrew LaGuardia, a spokesperson for the hospital system, said in an email. “We are providing PPE to our staff in accordance with New York State and CDC recommendations, and staff have appropriate access to PPE.”
Montefiore Health System did not immediately return requests for comment. The state health department said it could not comment on potential litigation.
“We are very thankful to the healthcare workers of New York State for all they are doing to reduce the spread of Covid-19 and treat those who have tested positive,” said health department spokesperson Jonah Bruno. “We are taking every step necessary to ensure healthcare workers have the PPE they need: bringing in the private sector, purchasing from China and other countries, pooling and stockpiling supplies from various hospitals, taking donations.”