UTICA, NY – A local union, which represents employees of the Mohawk Valley Health System, is voicing its concerns about alleged shortages of personal protective equipment and staffing for local health care workers.
The Communications Workers of America sent a news release to local media Monday, warning about several issues it claims its members are facing at MVHS-run hospitals. The union claims its nurses are forced to reuse N95 masks, use masks previously worn by other people, deal with staffing shortages, and otherwise function in what they call “unsafe working conditions.”
“When we’re short staffed, we are rushed. We become torn between what will be left undone and we hope no harm will come to our patients because of that which we could not do,” said nurse Barb Spudie.
The union also says a “substantial” number of workers have recently tested positive for COVID-19, and they believe it’s because of the reuse of masks.
“I was tested for Covid 19-and diagnosed with Covid-19. When I got in touch with the employee health department on November 11, I was asked if I had worked in the hospital on Saturday and Sunday, which I had. After stating that I was working, the employee health nurse responded, "It’s community acquired COVID-19,” said nurse Aleksandar Lazic.
MVHS emailed a statement to NewsChannel 2 responding to the union’s claims. MVHS says keeping employees and patients safe is “paramount to everything we do”, and they use a CDC-approved method for cleaning the masks, similar to the process for cleaning surgical equipment. They say their nurse managers meet every morning to assess staffing needs, and continue to “aggressively” recruit for new employees.
At MVHS, keeping our employees and patients safe is paramount to everything we do – and this includes ensuring appropriate staffing levels and having proper PPE. In fact, our hospitals’ nurse managers meet each morning to assess staffing in relation to the ever-changing patient needs and requirements, and to make adjustments (e.g., calling in additional staff, moving a staff member to another unit that has more patients) as necessary. And, we continue to aggressively recruit for new employees in a very challenging, competitive marketplace," said Patricia Charvat, MVHS Senior Vice President of Marketing and Strategy.
Charvat continued, "As for PPE, in order to conserve our limited supply of N95 masks, MVHS uses a CDC-approved method for cleaning the masks which is similar to the process for cleaning surgical instruments. At this point, hospitals across the nation – and the world – are competing for N95s and our focus is making sure we have a 90-day supply – which we do with our reuse policy. In fact, the unions and our employees have access to a PPE dashboard that shows our stock of PPE supplies."
MVHS says they plan to reach out to the union to collaborate on staffing and PPE needs.