Formidable nurses’ union suing over ‘grossly inadequate and negligent’ COVID protections

Alleging a clear failure to protect the health and safety of its members on the COVID-19 front lines, the largest nurses’ union in New York State has filed suit against the state’s health department and two hospitals.

With 42,000 members, the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) wields considerable labor-negotiating leverage across the Empire State. If its actions are successful against the three entities—the hospitals named are the Montefiore and Westchester medical centers—other unions representing healthcare workers elsewhere in the U.S. may be incentivized to follow suit.

The NYSNA says it filed the suits April 20, stating that the New York DOH and the two hospitals have fallen far short of measures laid out by Gov. Andrew Cuomo for protecting the health and safety of nurses treating COVID patients.

Some particular failings are named in all three suits. These include not providing impermeable gowns and other PPE to cover nurses’ bodies, not properly training nurses redeployed from hospital units and not ensuring safe working conditions for high-risk employees such as pregnant nurses.  

Further, by compromising the health and safety of the nurses, the DOH and the two hospitals “jeopardize patients, their families and the communities in which they live,” according to NYSNA.

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

The group filed the DOH and Westchester suits with the New York Supreme Court while filing the action against Montefiore with the U.S. District Court of Southern New York.

In announcing the suits, the union quotes several nurses who provided written affidavits, briefs and complaints in support of the suits.

Hilary Schneck, RN, testifies she had COVID-19 symptoms yet was directed by her supervisor to report to work anyway. “That same day,” she writes, “I was informed that I had tested positive for COVID-19.”

Click here for NYSNA’s announcement of the lawsuits and here for PDFs of the affidavits and other documents submitted as evidence.