The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has charged Albany Medical Center with serious violations regarding alleged working conditions during the pandemic.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the New York State Nurses Association union has often complained that the hospital's N95 policy has left staff in many areas without adequate protection from the coronavirus.
OSHA has now issued three citations against Albany Med: failure to provide respirators to protect employees from aerosolized COVID, failing to ensure that RNs provided user checks on N95 respirators and failing to ensure that each RN user could demonstrate how to check the seals of N95 respirators.
In an emailed statement to WAMC, the hospital says "All employees who wear N95 masks were provided instructions on how to perform the very simple user seal test and signed attestations that they understood how to check the seal of their masks. New N95 masks have been available for anyone who needs one. Our supply of N95 masks has been and remains sufficient."
NYSNA represents over 2,000 Albany Med nurses. Their battle cry during stalled contract negotiations with the hospital has been “Listen to your nurses.”
Tonia Bazel has been a nurse for 24 years, the last two at Albany Med where she is now an RN assigned to the Medical/Surgical Unit.
“It felt unsafe, we knew it was unsafe, and we had a lot of problems. And I'm glad they're finally having these reports. They wouldn’t listen to us.”
Bazel contends hospital management has never taken COVID protocols seriously. She echoes the union’s repeatedly raised concerns about safe staffing levels.
"Negotiating in good faith is not what they're doing. And the fact that OSHA came in, and they cited them, they had to have found something. And the nursing staff is not complaining about nothing. Of course they're going to say, you know, they're doing all the right things."
Albany Med says it believes OSHA issued its citations in error and looks forward to presenting the hospital's side of the story.
Bazel says the focus for her and other nurses is caring for patients and protecting their patients and themselves.
"Since I'm working with NYSNA, first and foremost I want AMC to give us safe staffing ratios. This makes nurses unstressed, we give better care to our patients, we have time to give better care to our patients, and we're not all just younger. Their thing is, if you're stressed out, a new younger nurse will come. Younger nurses come and they're leaving sooner because they're being stressed and burnt out with assignments. Or they call out frequently leaving us even more stressed out. So I would like to see patient ratios at that state level for no more than four to one. And beyond that I would like our state to initiate such a rule."
OSHA proposed a total of over $40,000 in fines against Albany Med. Hospital officials say OSHA informed them that the investigation will remain open until May 1st.
NYSNA says OSHA is continuing to investigate other safety hazards at the facility, and may impose additional citations in the future.
OSHA did not return calls for comment.
Albany Med's full statement is posted below:
Albany Med has contested these citations and looks forward to presenting its side of the story. OSHA informed us that the investigation would remain open until May 1. We would have hoped OSHA would have gathered more information and closed its investigation before making any citation.
On the first citation, regarding supposedly not requiring N95 respirators: Health care workers at Albany Med have been using N95 masks for aerosol generating procedures throughout the pandemic. In addition, OSHA’s other two citation items clearly state that Albany Med required employees to wear N95s while providing care to suspected and confirmed positive Covid-19 patients, which contradicts this item.
Further, on citations 2 and 3, regarding seal checks: All employees who wear N95 masks were provided instructions on how to perform the very simple user seal test and signed attestations that they understood how to check the seal of their masks. New N95 masks have been available for anyone who needs one. Our supply of N95 masks has been and remains sufficient.
Albany Med is contesting these citations because we believe they were issued in error. Albany Med continues to negotiate in good faith with the union, and will continue to cooperate fully with OSHA’s ongoing investigation.