Coronavirus News: New York nurses union sues 2 hospitals, Health Department

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The New York State Nurses Association is suing the state department of health and two hospitals over health and safety issues.

Montefiore Medical Center "is like a war zone," the New York State Nurses Association alleged Monday in the federal lawsuit that accused the Bronx hospital of failing to provide frontline health care workers with adequate protective gear.

Nurses are treating fragile coronavirus patients with inadequate masks, gowns and space to don and doff those items, the lawsuit said.

The union also alleged its members were "forced to work while sick with COVID symptoms" and given insufficient time to recover or quarantine.

"By being forced to return to work while they are still symptomatic and/or awaiting test results, Montefiore has endangered the health and safety of their co-workers and their patients," the lawsuit said. "It is nothing less than a gamble with the nurses' and public's health."

The lawsuit is one of three the union filed Monday.

Another targeted the New York State Health Department and alleges a failure to provide sick leave.

While the Department of Health said they do not comment on pending litigation, it released a statement saying it is deeply grateful for the ongoing efforts of health care workers to reduce the spread of coronavirus. It added the state is taking every necessary step to provide the support and supplies necessary to deal with the unprecedented public health emergency.

The third lawsuit targeted Westchester Medical Center on behalf of 1,600 RNs seeking an injunction against hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to nurses. Among the causes of action, intimidation of RNs who have spoken out publicly about deficiencies in the hospital's responses to COVID-19.

In the case against Montefiore the union claimed the hospital rejected efforts to mitigate the risks to nurses and asked a federal judge to compel Montefiore to provide sufficient PPE.

Montefiore released the following statement:

"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."

The union, which represents 42,000 frontline nurses, says about 72% of its members have been exposed to the coronavirus at work and at least eight registered nurses in the union have died due to contracting the virus at work.

"At the risk of their health and that of their patients, the nurses are being forced to provide this care with inadequate and often ill-fitting equipment, often in rooms that have not been properly converted to deal with COVID-19 patients, often in practice areas where they have never been trained, and generally without adequate testing to ensure they are fit to work without infecting others," the lawsuit said.

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