New York nurses union sues state, hospitals alleging dangerous working conditions

The New York State Nurses Association has filed three lawsuits against the state and two hospitals, alleging they failed to provide adequate protections for healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients.

The union, which represents more than 42,000 members in the state, sued the New York State Department of Health in New York Supreme Court; Bronx, N.Y.-based Montefiore Medical Center in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, on behalf of the 3,000 nurses at the hospital; and Westchester County Health Care Corp., and the parent company of Valhalla, N.Y.-based Westchester Medical Center in New York Supreme Court, Westchester County, on behalf of 1,600 nurses.

In the lawsuits, which were filed April 20, the union's claims include not providing impermeable gowns and other personal protective equipment to cover nurses' bodies; not properly training nurses redeployed from hospital units; and not enough provision of safe working conditions for high-risk employees such as those who are pregnant.

"Overall, the nurses have not received appropriate masks and carry out assignments in unsafe working conditions," said the New York State Nurses Association.

In the lawsuit against the state, the union said it seeks, among other things, to enforce Gov. Andrew Cuomo's April 13 directive that each direct care nurse be given one or more N95 respirator daily. The New York State Nurses Association also accuses the state of "forcing nurses to come to work sick."

The union said at Montefiore, it seeks to restore safe working conditions, and at Westchester, an injunction against what it describes as "hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to nurses." The union specifically accuses Westchester of intimidating nurses who have spoken out publicly about deficiencies in the hospital's responses to the pandemic.

In response to the lawsuits, Montefiore emailed a statement to Becker's, saying the union "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."

A spokesperson for New York's health department told The Wall Street Journal the state "continues to take every step necessary" to ensure healthcare workers "have the support and supplies needed to address this unprecedented public health emergency."

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Westchester hospital system told the newspaper "the allegations in NYSNA's lawsuit are wrong" and that "our focus is, and has always been, protecting our workforce."

Read the court documents here

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