New York nurses sue state and two hospitals over lack of protective equipment
04/21/2020 // Franz Walker // Views

The New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) filed a lawsuit against the New York State Department of Health, Montefiore Medical Center and Westchester Medical Center, Monday for failing to protect the health and safety of nurses during the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

"These lawsuits were filed to protect our nurses, our patients and our communities from grossly inadequate and negligent protections," said Pat Kane, the association's executive director, in a statement.

As part of the lawsuit against the state and two hospitals, the association has asked judges to issue injections to force the defendants to provide masks and other protective gear to the state's nurses.

Nurses not given enough protection

The NYSNA alleged that some nurses were not given impermeable gowns and personal protective equipment and that nurses were redeployed to hospitals other than those they normally worked at were not given sufficient training. Additionally, the lawsuits also stated that high-risk employees, such as pregnant nurses, were not provided safe working conditions.

“All three suits expose, among other failures: not providing impermeable gowns and other PPE to cover RNs bodies; not properly training RNs redeployed from hospital units; inadequate provision of safe working conditions for high-risk employees, including pregnant RNs,” the NYSNA added in its statement. “Overall, the nurses have not received appropriate masks and carry out assignments in unsafe working conditions.”

The lawsuit against the New York State Health Department was filed in the Manhattan state Supreme Court. The lawsuit against Montefiore Medical Center was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York court while the suit against the Westchester Medical Center was filed in the Supreme Court in White Plains. Related: (A warning to the world? New York now scrambling to address Coronavirus outbreak.)


Each lawsuit asks something slightly different from the defendants. The suit against the Health Department asks the court to enforce New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's April 13 directive that required each nurse to be given at least one N95 mask daily.

The suit against Montefiore, on the other hand, cited alleged labor law violations and has asked the federal judge to force the institution “to honor its contractual obligations” and “restore safe working conditions for nurses and their patients.”

Finally, the suit against Westchester Medical, which was filed on behalf of 1,600 nurses, sought an injunction “against hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to nurses.” It also alleged that nurses who spoke out about conditions at the hospital suffered “intimidation.”

The trio of torts included affidavits from numerous nurses.

“I began experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19, including cough and fever,” stated nurse Pamela Brown-Richardson. “I reported my symptoms to Montefiore and asked for testing. I was informed that Montefiore would not test me.”  Brown-Richardson also wrote that she was forced to obtain her own test, which came back positive.

Meanwhile, Crystal Torres, a nurse at Northwell Health's Staten Island University Hospital, filed an affidavit against the Health Department in the suit where she charged that she was only given one mask to last an entire week on top of being instructed to use the same gown for multiple patients.

Health officials claim allegations are wrong

In response to the lawsuits, both hospital systems fired back at the NYSNA.

“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,” stated Montefiore spokeswoman Tracy Gurrisi.

Meanwhile, representatives for Westchester Medical Center have said that “while we cannot comment on pending litigation, we know, and our care providers know, that the allegations in NYSNA’s lawsuit are wrong.”

New York State Health Department officials have also declined to comment on the pending litigation.

“The State of New York continues to take every step necessary to ensure that health care workers, particularly those who are sampling and providing direct care, have the support and supplies needed to address this unprecedented public health emergency,” stated Jonah Bruno, spokesmen for the health department. Bruno also stated that the department could not comment on pending litigation.

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