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Describing a coronavirus ‘war zone,’ nurses sue New York and two hospitals over safety issues

The nurses’ union alleges a host of dangerous practices and conditions.

Describing a coronavirus ‘war zone,’ nurses sue New York and two hospitals over safety issues
[Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images]
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On the font lines of a pandemic and working in what it described as a “war zone,” the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) has filed three lawsuits against the state and two hospital systems. The union, which alleges a host of dangerous practices and conditions, represents 42,000 nurses and is the largest in the state.

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Among the allegations in the suit against the New York Department of Health was that it “failed to ensure that health-care employees had enough safety equipment, including N95 respirators and fluid-resistant gowns.”

Montefiore Medical Center system and Westchester Medical Center were also sued by the union, which represents 3,000 registered nurses and 1,600 members in each system, respectively. In one affidavit, a nurse at Montefiore reported symptoms of COVID-19 but was informed that the hospital would not test her. She went to be tested independently and was confirmed positive for the virus. The union reported that 11 nurses died, 84 are in the hospital, and 954 have tested positive, although it notes that those numbers are likely low due to the lack of testing.

“More than 7 in 10 of our nurses are reporting exposure to COVID-19 and most are still untested. These lawsuits were filed to protect our nurses, our patients, and our communities from grossly inadequate and negligent protections,” NYSNA executive director Pat Kane said in a statement to CNBC. “We cannot allow these dangerous practices to continue.”

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In a statement in the same report, Westchester Medical Center said, “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.”

Montefiore said in a statement that 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.”

About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.

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