Albany Med nurses have shown their grit over and over again. After months of health and safety organizing, documenting unsafe practices, and exposing AMC’s dangerous COVID practices, the hospital is finally dropping the mandate to reuse N95s up to 20 times.
Now nurses receive an N95 after donning and doffing 5 times, or if their respirator is soiled — a critical win on their way to a first contract. Another significant change in hospital conditions is testing for virus for all patients.
Unfair Labor Practices and unsafe conditions
NYSNA members will continue to organize to press AMC to follow best practices for respiratory protection and to meet other safety standards, such as co-horting COVID-positive patients.
“This acute condition, called COVID, obviously required our full attention. But it revealed years and years of a chronic condition — understaffing of RNs and other healthcare workers to such an extent of being unsafe,” said Patricia Pinho, RN. “Patients are our number one priority. But AMC impedes our ability to provide the necessary care safely.”
“RN’s are assigned 5-6 patients every shift and have 1-2 nursing assistants per 26 patients. We see our patient care and satisfaction declining before our eyes,” said Kele Vanlare, RN.
The latest battle took place on December 1 in a one-day nurses’ strike, a walk out over Unfair Labor Practices and unsafe conditions. A two-day lock out of striking nurses ensued, with more ULPs filed against the hospital. The charges addressed hospital threats directed at RNs including loss of health benefit coverage, interrogating nurses who planned to strike, locking out RNs for striking and union activity, and threatening RNs with discipline who attempted to return to work.
“Albany Medical Center’s administration does absolutely nothing to train their management to treat nurses like the critical assets they are and this obviously leads to turnover,” said Liz Egan, RN. “It frightens me that an organization that employs individuals that care for and save lives everyday does nothing to try to retain nurses. Nothing.”
Ineffective infection control system
Nurses point at conditions that require serious and immediate attention to an ineffective infection control system. The administration has failed to put in place key COVID-19 protections for staff and patients. If the hospital had used methods and protocols well-known in the industry from the first pandemic wave and from prior emergencies, like Ebola, SARS and MERS, the conditions leading to recent exposure incidents would have been preventable.
It is imperative that AMC takes steps immediately to address the following: a universal policy is needed to test all patients for COVID-19, using the most accurate means and protocols; separation and cohorting measures need strict adherence; building ventilation overall needs to be enhanced to reduce risks, without delay.
Nurses are coming forward in increasing numbers to state their demands. They are saying loud and clear: the Albany community deserves better hospital care and nurses have an essential role to play in the city’s public health system. A win on masks will lead to a win on other safety measures, from greater improvements in respiratory masks to ventilation and policies that help retain nurses.
“We are very hopeful,” said Patricia Pinho, RN. “This year we are going to get and ratify a contract that will lead to the establishment of strategic committees in which we will have an active role. We have been missing from healthcare planning. That’s got to change and it will.”
OLMSTED ENVIRONMENTAL SERVICES, INC. (Excerpted)
2. Reuse of N95 Filtering Facepiece Masks – The program at AMC involves reuse of N-95 filtering facepiece masks after sterilization up to 5 times. ... Problems with this program are as follows:
a. If employees inspecting masks develop pre-symptomatic SARs-C0V-2 infection there is a potential for contaminating all of the masks they inspect.
b. N95 respirators are not designed or intended for reuse. CDC NIOSH has recommended that a nurse can reuse a mask up to 5 times through the course of entering and exiting an infectious patient room. The major manufacturer of N95 respirators in the United States, 3M, does not recommend reuse or cleaning of disposable N95 respirators. 3M warns that filtering facepiece N95 respirators are not intended to be decontaminated.1
- Edward Olmsted, CIH, CSP
NYSNA commissioned a study from a former OSHA official on safety conditions at Albany Medical Center. Above is an excerpt. View the report in its entirety.