Albany Medical Center halts new cancer unit admissions after third COVID-19 cluster

Albany (N.Y.) Medical Center said it has closed its cancer unit to new admissions — and a limited number of staff are working on the unit — after three recent COVID-19 clusters there.

The news, confirmed in a statement shared with Becker's Feb. 17, comes as the New York State Nurses Association alleges that the state health department ordered emergency measures inside the cancer unit after dozens of patients, nurses and other workers contracted COVID-19 since November. The hospital refutes that claim.

The union has been in contract negotiations with Albany Medical and went on strike in December. It issued a news release Feb. 16 about the outbreaks at the hospital, claiming 28 staff and 26 patients had been infected in the outbreaks, and that at least one person died of COVID-19 complications. It also released a redacted version of a nurse complaint filed Jan. 18 with the state, which cites improper patient placement and lax infection control policies, and said the state had ordered that no new patients enter the cancer unit and that there be no floating of nurses in or out of that area.  

Albany Medical said the hospital is in close communication with state officials and that the state did not order emergency actions.

"When any cases of communicable disease are identified on a unit, Albany Med immediately initiates a thorough response in partnership with the [department of health], as it was in these cases," the hospital said. "This response included testing staff and patients every three days for COVID-19 and, if positive, patients are placed on appropriate precautions and staff are sent home. But the state has not ordered changes. It agreed with Albany Med's plan." 

The dates associated with the three outbreaks are: Nov. 25, 2020; Jan. 6, 2021; and Feb. 7, 2021.

The hospital said patients on the unit are kept in private rooms as much as possible and are wearing masks when providers, who are also wearing masks, are in the room. It also refuted the numbers provided by the union, saying 22 patients and 26 staff members were affected in the clusters, and no deaths have been associated with the clusters.

In addition to closing to new admissions and limiting staff on the cancer unit, the hospital said it also enhanced cleaning protocols.

The public health department told Becker's Feb. 16: "During this unprecedented pandemic, ensuring hospital infection control practices are being followed is a top priority. As this may be the subject of an ongoing investigation, we cannot comment further."


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