Home Government ‘War zone’: Nurses sue Westchester Medical Center, Montefiore and state

‘War zone’: Nurses sue Westchester Medical Center, Montefiore and state

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Westchester Medical Centeer WMC nurses
Photo by Bob Rozycki

The New York State Nurses Association has filed three lawsuits alleging that the New York State Department of Health and two hospitals, Westchester Medical Center and Montefiore Medical Center, have failed to protect the health and safety of nurses treating COVID-19 patients.

The lawsuit against Westchester Medical alleges, in part, “WMC is currently like a war zone, and the RNs there are being sent into battle on a daily basis by hospital management without the essential tools they need to do their job and keep themselves safe.”

The nurses association recently staged a series of protests outside of the medical center  in Valhalla, Montefiore in the Bronx and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Yonkers to call attention to its concerns.

The action against WMC was filed April 20 in state Supreme Court in Westchester. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 1,600 registered nurses at the medical center and seeks an injunction against hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to the nurses.

The lawsuit also alleges intimidation of registered nurses who have spoken out publicly about alleged deficiencies in the hospital’s responses to COVID-19.

The lawsuit names the Westchester County Health Care Corp. and the WCHCC Board of Directors.

The lawsuit against the state Health Department was filed in state Supreme Court in New York County, under Article 78, a type of proceeding used when the actions of a governmental body are being challenged. Among other things, this lawsuit seeks to enforce Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s directive of April 13 that each direct care nurse be given at least one N95 respirator daily. The suit alleges a failure to provide sick leave afforded to all New Yorkers and forcing nurses to come to work sick, allegedly putting their co-workers, patients, families and communities at risk.

The lawsuit against Montefiore was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of the 3,000 registered nurses at the hospital, seeking injunctive relief under the federal Labor Management Relations Act to honor its contractual obligations. This injunctive action seeks to restore safe working conditions for nurses and their patients.

“More than seven in ten 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,” said NYSNA Executive Director Pat Kane, a registered nurse. “We cannot allow these dangerous practices to continue.”

In an affidavit filed with the lawsuit against Westchester Medical Center, registered nurse Liesl Van Ledjte said, “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.”

The lawsuit against the medical center states, in part, “To date, at least six NYSNA RNs have died due to COVID-19 contracted at work, at least 84 NYSNA RNs have been hospitalized as a result of serious COVID symptoms. Approximately 72% of NYSNA members have been exposed to COVID-19 at work. As a result of this, at least 954 NYSNA RNs have tested positive for COVID-19, including 11 at WMC.”

The lawsuit against Westchester Medical alleges, in part, “Instead of implementing polices that will protect the nurses (and, by extension, their patients and the public at large), WMC management through its actions and inactions has created and allowed to flourish a number of severe and pervasive workplace hazards that are causing or are likely to cause the WMC RNs death or serious physical harm.”

The lawsuit against the medical center was filed by the New York City law firm Cohen, Weiss and Simon LLP.

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