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Unionized Nurses, Albany Medical Center Remain At Odds Over A New Contract: Strike Set For Tuesday

Dave Lucas

Unionized nurses joined by elected officials and labor leaders rallied outside Albany Medical Center on Saturday ahead of a strike planned for Tuesday.

The New York State Nurses Association has been asking Albany Med to negotiate a new contract for almost two years. Issues include wages and benefits, understaffing, and recent concerns about the hospital's handling of the COVID epidemic.

Nurses allege they were forced to re-use N95 masks and conceal a COVID outbreak at the facility. Nurse Lenore Granich-Berghela is an AMC Negotiating Committee Member.

"They admitted to 48 staff members contracting COVID-19 within the hospital, and as of late 18 additional staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. This is something that Albany Med withheld from the Albany County Health Department, and I ask you why. The nurses are not exploiting this pandemic. We have been stating for months and months that things were not OK within the halls of Albany Med. Our CEO came out and tried to shame us in public by saying that were exploiting this pandemic for baseless reasons. And I'm here to say loud and proud that every single nurse in this institution, voted to strike to save our community, to save our patients and to save each other. We can’t appropriately care for this community if our nurses are falling sick. Enough is enough."

On Monday, NYSNA announced it has an OSHA complaint against Albany Medical Center for not protecting its nurses from COVID by neglecting to provide suitable PPE.

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

The complaint alleges that, among other issues, Albany Medical Center is forcing the nurses to use N95 masks up to 20 times, on different patients.

It further alleges that CDC guidelines say that masks should ONLY be re-used if a facility does NOT have a 90-day supply, and that New York state says all hospitals have 90 day supplies. Nurse Liz Egan:

"I have some information from a report that Edward Olmstead, an expert in PPE and hospital conditions, I'm gonna quote something from a report he sent to NYSNA, quote unquote: 'N95 respirators are not designed nor intended for reuse.’ However, nurses at Albany Medical Center are required to reuse N95 respirators over an extended period of time. It was reported that masks are collected after use and treated using a process that involves a large scale disinfectant over an extended period of time, using aerosolized hydrogen peroxide."

Several rallygoers held up posters depicting a soiled mask allegedly issued to a nurse at Albany Med.

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

Albany Common Councilor Owusu Anane of the 10th Ward says the hospital needs to honor what he terms the nurses' "basic requests."

"Because quite frankly, maybe Albany [Med] executives don't understand. Albany is a union town. Albany is a union town. And Albany Med executives think they're going to prevail? They don't know that we are going to be victorious because we have people power. What kind of power? People power. What kind of power? People power. They want us to step back. We're not gonna step back. we're gonna keep on marching. We're gonna keep on agitating. We're gonna keep on legislating. We will not rest until Albany [Med] executives treat the nurses with the dignity and respect that they deserve."

Albany Med issued a statement in response to Saturday's rally:

"NYSNA’s claims are growing more preposterous as their strike approaches. There were no outstanding issues with respect to PPE during contract negotiations. Albany Med follows all federal and state guidance for PPE, and our supply of PPE is adequate. Our focus remains the safety of all our patients and colleagues. Despite NYSNA’s baseless accusations, Albany Med will continue its mission of patient care, research and education. Albany Med is a place of healing, and as the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise, we know our community needs us now more than ever. Because of that sacred trust, we will not abandon our mission."

The nurses say they will strike for 12 hours beginning at 7 a.m. Tuesday. They are planning to hold a vigil at 6:30 tonight outside the main entrance. Hospital officials say there will be no interruption in patient care.

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