NEW YORK NURSE: March 2008
by Mark Genovese
The New York State Department of Health announced on Jan. 17 that it had determined residents at the Avalon Gardens Rehabilitation and Health Care Center in Smithtown were not placed in jeopardy by the resignation of 10 Filipino nurses in April 2006.
“The Health Department’s announcement is further proof that the nurses did not abandon their patients,” said Tina Gerardi, NYSNA CEO, noting that the state Office of Professional Discipline had cleared the nurses in September 2006. “They were fighting for the safety of their patients.”
The Avalon nurses are part of a group of 26 RNs and one physical therapist from the Philippines who were brought to the U.S. in November 2005 by the Sentosa Recruitment Agency to work in facilities on Long Island. The RNs said they were given little or no orientation before being sent out on the floors, staffing was inadequate, and they were forced to work overtime on a routine basis. Believing they had no alternative, the nurses resigned from their jobs.
The Health Department inquiry supported the nurses’ claim that they submitted their resignations at the end of their shifts and endorsed the care and custody of their patients to the incoming charge nurse. They said there were nurses waiting for assignment, so replacements were readily available.
The Avalon nurses are scheduled to face trial on April 28 in Suffolk County Court on charges of conspiracy and endangering patients. NYSNA and other supporters contend the nurses are being prosecuted because of the nursing home owner’s political connections to key players in the district attorney’s office.
Because of these connections, NYSNA has been one of seven organizations to call for Gov. Eliot Spitzer to assign a special prosecutor to the case. Association members have joined other supporters in faxing more than 300 letters to Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s office and collecting more than 2,700 signatures for an online petition. NYSNA also has issued a call for the American Nurses Association (ANA) and other state nurses associations to send letters to Gov. Spitzer.
NYSNA has provided support in other ways as well, contacting state officials to expedite the review of the professional misconduct charges, urging Suffolk County Court to dismiss the criminal charges, and helping the nurses find employment at NYSNA-represented facilities. In February, five of the nurses were offered full-time positions at New York Westchester Square Medical Center in the Bronx.
“We do not want precedent to be set here in New York,” Gerardi said in her letter to the ANA, “as it could have broad and far-reaching effects on the entire nursing profession.”