In a lawsuit filed Monday by the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), the organization claims that the state’s hospitals are turning into a “petri dish” as sick nurses are told to return back to work too soon, as they continue to fight on the front lines of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The claim comes amid three other lawsuits filed by the NYSNA against the state’s Department of Health, as well as two against hospital systems, the Montefiore Medical Center and the Westchester County Medical Corp.
In Monday’s lawsuit, the nurse’s union, which has 42,000 members, claimed that the state’s Department of Health and the two hospitals failed to provide adequate safety equipment, such as N95 face masks and fluid-resistant hospital gowns.
The union stating that the hospitals were becoming a “petri dish” comes as more and more NYSNA nurses have been impacted by the novel coronavirus. The union informed the Wall Street Journal that at least 11 NYSNA nurses have died from COVID-19, 84 have been hospitalized and 954 have tested positive.
In their lawsuit, the union asks the state’s Department of Health to change a directive that allows hospitals to call back sick workers after seven days. According to the Journal, the union believes that this directive has resulted in potentially contagious nurses coming back to work and putting others at risk. The union believes that those who test positive should get at least 14 days of paid sick leave, which follows New York state laws for workers at other companies.
The request for a change in directive stems from a nurse at Northwell Health’s Staten Island University Hospital, who told the Journal that she was instructed to use her own sick days and was “strongly encouraged,” to return to work seven days following a positive COVID-19 test.
This claim was disputed shortly after by a Northwell Health spokesperson, Terence Lynam, in a statement sent to the Journal.
“We would never force an employee to return to work if they were still symptomatic,” Lynam told the publication.
According to the Journal, the union also called the hospitals a “war zone.” The lawsuit claims that both hospitals rationed supplies, while also failing to properly ventilate COVID-19 patient areas.
“We are deeply grateful for the ongoing efforts of New York’s health care workers to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by testing people who may be infected and treating those who are most in need. The State of New York continues to take every step necessary to ensure that health care workers, particularly those who are sampling and providing direct care, have the support and supplies needed to address this unprecedented public health emergency,” said Jonah Bruno, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Health, in an email sent to Newsweek.
In an email sent to Newsweek, Westchester Medical Center Health Network stated that they cannot comment on pending litigation, but noted that “the allegations in NYSNA’s lawsuit are wrong.”
“Our focus is, and has always been, protecting our workforce, which has been aligned from the outset in treating the most severely ill patients battling COVID-19,” the statement sent to Newsweek adds. “NYSNA’s lawsuit is irresponsible and a distraction from this work, and a disservice to all who are valiantly caring for these patients every day.”
Newsweek reached out to Montefiore Medical Center and Northwell Health for further comment on the matter, but did not receive a response in time for publication.
According to a tracker provided by Johns Hopkins University, New York remains the state with the most coronavirus cases, with over 248,000 cases and at least 18,298 deaths.