The New York State Nurses Association sued the state and two hospitals to force them to provide safety equipment and adopt measures to prevent COVID-19 from spreading among its members, highlighting the growing disputes over workplace safety during the coronavirus pandemic.
The association sued the New York Department of Health, Montefiore Medical Center and the parent company of the Westchester Medical Center. The nurses asked judges to order the defendants to provide masks and other protection to nurses.
These lawsuits were filed to protect our nurses, our patients and our communities from grossly inadequate and negligent protections,” said a statement from Pat Kane, the association’s executive director.
The court filings said the hospitals were ignoring requirements by the state’s COVID-19 task force that healthcare workers receive an N95 respirator mask daily, and that the health department was not enforcing it.
The Department of Health said it has taken every step necessary to ensure that healthcare workers have the needed support and supplies.
Westchester Medical Center Health Network said its focus has been on protecting its workforce, while Montefiore said nurses were attacking the system while their colleagues were working to save lives.
The association represents 42,000 nurses in the state, which leads the country with about 233,000 COVID-19 cases. The association said that 9,514 of its registered nurses have tested positive for the highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the virus and that 11 have died.
The association asked a state judge to block the Department of Health from enforcing a directive requiring healthcare personnel to return to work only seven days after the onset of COVID-19, even if they still have symptoms.
The nurses said the directive violated a state law adopted in March that provided quarantined workers 14 days paid sick leave.
The filings described Westchester Medical Center as like a war zone.
We have been instructed to date our N95 respirators and to use the same N95 respirator for a week, said Mary-Lynn Boyts, a nurse at Westchester Medical Center, in an affidavit.
While tens of millions of Americans have been laid off or are working from home, safety is becoming a flashpoint for those who are staffing grocery stores, fast food restaurants and warehouses.
Workers have stayed home from meat processing plants, which have been hit by coronavirus outbreaks, and Amazon.com Inc fired three employees who questioned the safety of its warehouses.
The head of the Teamsters union told U.S. President Donald Trump last week that workers needed greater access to protective gear and disinfected workplaces before returning to work.