April 20 (UPI) -- A New York nurses union announced Monday it had filed three lawsuits accusing the state of New York, along with two hospitals, of allegedly failing to provide adequate protection for members working during the coronavirus pandemic.
The New York State Nurses Association filed state civil suits against the New York State Department of Health and Westchester Medical Center. The group filed a federal suit in United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against Montefiore Medical Center.
The suits alleged that nurses have not been given adequate personal protection equipment, including a shortage of impermeable gowns and masks. The suits also allege that hospitals have not protected nurses, including pregnant nurses, with safe working conditions.
Nurses redeployed to work in COVID-19 wards have not been adequately trained, the lawsuits also alleged, and testing of nurses has been dangerously slow.
"More than seven in ten of our nurses are reporting exposure to COVID-19 and most are still untested," said Pat Kane, the union's executive director. "We cannot allow these dangerous practices to continue."
Kane said patients and communities were also in danger from "grossly inadequate and negligent protections."
The union said the Department of Health had failed to provide at least one N95 respirator mask daily to direct-care nurses, as ordered by a directive from Gov. Andrew Cuomo on April 13.
Nurses at Westchester Medical Center were given inadequate masks and faced intimidation and retaliation if they publicly spoke out, the suit filed in New York Supreme Court, Westchester County, said. More than 1,600 nurses work at the hospital.
"Initially, Westchester Medical Center gave me only one N95 respirator, which I was required to use for a week's time... Because it was too big...I was exposed to infectious airborne molecules that could reach my nose and mouth," Liesl Van Ledjte, a nurse at Westchester said in an affidavit.
Nurses accused Montefiore Medical Center of denying employees COVID-19 tests even when they had symptoms, the suit said.
After cough and fever symptoms, Pamela Brown-Richardson said she "obtained testing on my own [and] found out that I tested positive for COVID-19," she said in an affidavit. She was diagnosed with double-lobe pneumonia.
"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 suit said.
More than 9,000 health workers have been sickened with COVID-19, as of April 10, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.