As of this writing, we are grieving the loss of two fellow NYSNA nurses and one former NYSNA member, who died prematurely from COVID-19 — Freda Ocran, Theresa Lococo and Kious Kelly.
Our colleague and friend Freda Ocran was an outstanding RN with a long career in nursing. She worked at several hospitals in the New York City area, including North Central Bronx, Bronx Lebanon Hospital and, most recently, at Jacobi Medical Center. A pediatric nurse at Kings County Hospital Center, Theresa Lococo was known for her professionalism and compassion. She was a 48-year NYSNA member, and a veteran of New York City’s public hospital system, where she had worked since 1972.
We are also deeply saddened by the death of Kious Kelly, an assistant nurse manager at Mount Sinai-West, and NYSNA member for several years, who died on the frontlines last week from a COVID-19 infection. Kelly was the first RN in New York killed by coronavirus.
These nurses are a somber reminder of the courage and commitment our nurses bring to work every day in this crisis.
You may wish to visit a memorial page on NYSNA’s website to honor these nurses, and any others who fall victim to COVID-19. Pictures or remembrances of colleagues you would like to share can be sent email@example.com.
Losing colleagues to this pandemic is devastating for all of us on the frontlines, and our hearts go out to their families.
Defence Production Act
The tragic element of these deaths is in knowing that our government has failed to harness all of its resources to stop the spread of the virus. There is no question that the White House refused to invoke and utilize powers given the president under the Defense Production Act (DPA). Even after acknowledging the DPA, President Trump has hesitated to use its powers.
The DPA was passed by Congress in 1950, and reads, in part, as follows:
An Act to establish a system of priorities and allocations for materials and facilities, authorize the requisitioning thereof, provide financial assistance for the expansion of production capacity for supply… and by these measures facilitate the production of goods and services necessary for the national security, and for other purposes….
President Trump is not unfamiliar with the DPA. He invoked it on June 13, 2017, to address two sets of products he deemed “critical to national defense”.
“Hopefully there will be no need”
However, on March 18, 2020, well into the COVID-19 outbreak, having defined ventilators and protective equipment as “essential to the national defense” — the standard required by the DPA, the president took a fateful pause, saying, “Hopefully there will be no need.” But the need was already pervasive.
In the meantime, our members have experienced the virus entering and infesting their hospitals — a lethal presence with horrid consequences. Without adequate PPE, ventilators — even basic supplies, NYSNA’s selfless nurses continue to work, in a spirit of dedication to patients that inspires the entire nation.
Our members recognized that the time to fight is now.
NYSNA members at Albany Medical Center are fighting management stonewalling with all the legal tools in our toolbox. Members filed an OSHA complaint about inadequate PPE, and in the week of March 30 OSHA sided with the nurses and cited the hospital.
Erie County Medical Center’s NYSNA nurses joined with members of the Communications Workers of America on April 1 in a car caravan around Buffalo’s Niagara Square. Healthcare workers from across western New York were there to protest PPE shortages and call on the Trump Administration to unleash the DPA.
Less than 24 hours before a scheduled speak out of NSYNA members at Mount Sinai Hospital, management scrambled to announce much-needed improvements, including expanded testing for frontline caregivers and reasonable accommodations for immuno-compromised or pregnant staff.
NYSNA members at Montefiore Medical Center joined with other hospital staff on April 2 to speak out about the dangerous shortages of PPE and lack of training for nurses being shifted from different parts of the hospital into critical care.
Over 20 town halls were held to date, with a schedule of them going forward, connecting thousands of members. The focal points of union discussions and collaboration consisted of the fight to end the virus.
Member education on DPA is moving the dial in the national conversation, DPA becoming a regular talking point in the PPE supply chain on city, state, and national levels due to member advocacy.
Inspector General report
The Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a report after surveying hospitals nationwide. He concluded that shortages of testing kits, PPE, ventilators — even thermometers, are real, widespread and dangerous. He was alarmed to discover that expired equipment from federal reserves was being shipped to hospitals.
We can only help but conclude that the solution to this appalling shortfall is new production under the DPA.
Your unity has raised the volume of our message to national resonance. Your courage and commitment to patients is an inspiration to all.
In the midst of this unprecedented and incredibly stressful public health crisis, I want to highlight our Union Assistance Program (UAP), which offers grief counseling and related mental health supports, available 24/7, 800-252-4555, https://www.theeap.com/union-ap. Go to nysna.org/covid for COVID resources, updates, actions, and reporting tools.