New York’s biggest nurses union sued the state Health Department and two hospitals — Montefiore Medical Center and Westchester Medical Center — on Monday for failing to protect their health and safety during the coronavirus pandemic.
The lawsuits point the finger for the failures at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration and the two hospitals for failing to provide sufficient protective equipment, like masks and gowns.
“By compromising the health and safety of the nurses, the DOH and the two hospitals jeopardize patients, their families and the communities in which they live,” the New York State Nurses Association said in a statement accompanying the trio of torts.
NYSNA executive director Pat Kane said that more than 70 percent of her nurses reported being exposed to the dangerous disease and that most are still untested.
“All three suits expose, among other failures: not providing impermeable gowns and other PPE to cover RNs bodies; not properly training RNs redeployed from hospital units; inadequate provision of safe working conditions for high-risk employees, including pregnant RNs,” the union added in its statement. “Overall, the nurses have not received appropriate masks and carry out assignments in unsafe working conditions.”
The lawsuit against the state Health Department was filed in Manhattan state Supreme Court. The lawsuit against Montefiore was filed in Manhattan federal court and the lawsuit against the Westchester complex was filed in Supreme Court in White Plains.
The Post revealed last month that a shortage of gowns was so dire that nurses battling the coronavirus pandemic at Mount’s Sinai’s Midtown West hospital resorted to wearing trash bags over their uniforms for protection, while a beloved assistant nursing manager, Kious Kelly, died from the coronavirus. At the time, Mount Sinai insisted there was no shortage of PPE.
Each lawsuit has a slightly different ask, documents show. The suit against Cuomo’s Health Department asks the court to enforce the governor’s April 13 directive that required each nurse to be given at least one N95 respirator daily.
The claim against Montefiore cites alleged labor law violations and asks the federal judge to force The Bronx institution “to honor its contractual obligations” and “restore safe working conditions for nurses and their patients.”
The action against Westchester Medical Center, filed on behalf of the 1,600 nurses, seeks an injunction “against hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to nurses” and it claims that nurses who spoke out about conditions suffered “intimidation.”
The bevy of lawsuits includes affidavits from numerous nurses.
“I began experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19, including cough and fever. I reported my symptoms to Montefiore and asked for testing. I was informed that Montefiore would not test me,” said nurse Pamela Brown-Richardson, who wrote that she was forced to obtain her own test, which came back positive.
Liesel Van Ledjte, who works at Westchester Medical Center, said the hospital gave her only one N95 mask, which was too large.
“Because it was too big,” she said, “I was exposed to infectious airborne molecules that could reach my nose and mouth.”
Cristal Torres, a nurse at Northwell Health’s Staten Island University Hospital, filed an affidavit in the lawsuit against the state Health Department, charging she was only given one mask to last an entire week and was told to use the same gown with multiple patients.
She said she tested positive and was strongly encouraged to return to work in just one week, even though she was still suffering from symptoms of COVID-19.
The two hospital systems fired back at the union over the lawsuits.
“NYSNA leadership has chosen to attack a system, and the commitment of thousands of their colleagues, who have followed the Governor’s emergency orders and are selflessly doing all they can to fight COVID-19 and save lives,” Montefiore spokeswoman Tracy Gurrisi said in a statement.
Representatives for the Westchester hospital said: “While we cannot comment on pending litigation, we know, and our care providers know, that the allegations in NYSNA’s lawsuit are wrong.”
Good Samaritan did not return calls seeking comment.
Officials at the Health Department also said they could not comment on pending litigation.
“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,” said state DOH spokesman Jonah Bruno.