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Albany Nurses Feel Unsafe, Overworked

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In December, Albany Medical Center nurses staged a one-day walkout over their concerns about working conditions. (NYSNA)
In December, Albany Medical Center nurses staged a one-day walkout over their concerns about working conditions. (NYSNA)
January 15, 2021

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Nurses at the Albany Medical Center say they feel vulnerable to exposure to the growing spike in COVID infections, and they're struggling to keep up with the patient load.

For months, nurses complained the hospital was reusing N-95 masks as many as 20 times, for shifts that often run 12 hours. Nurses say that has now been curtailed to just five reuses.

Michele Hanna, an emergency room nurse at Albany Medical, said cleaning and reusing damages the filter material and causes masks to be ill-fitting.

"You have to have a special fit test for N-95s, and there are entire units in the hospital that have not even been fit-tested yet," Hanna asserted. "They're still doing aerosolized procedures on patients of unknown COVID status."

Albany Medical Center said masks are inspected before being reused or destroyed, and employees don't have to reuse masks if they don't want to.

Last week, six of the 281 new COVID cases reported in Albany County in a single day were health-care workers. Hanna added with more nurses out sick, another challenge they're facing is maintaining safe staffing levels.

"We're tired. We're exhausted," Hanna remarked. "It's very difficult to go into work every day knowing that you cannot provide the quality of care you would like to, because you just have too many patients."

She contended hospitals are now "hemorrhaging nurses" at an alarming rate.

Last month, members of the New York State Nursing Association (NYSNA) staged a one-day walkout to demand safer working conditions. The hospital said concerns about personal protective equipment (PPE) had not been part of ongoing contract negotiations, but Hanna disagrees.

"If anybody were to go back and look, they would see that PPE was brought up," Hanna maintained. "And being adequately protected and having adequate staffing has always been a concern, for NYSNA and for the nurses."

A November report from a private health-care consultant, commissioned by the Nurses Association, said PPE reuse by nurses at Albany Medical "posed an unreasonable risk of exposure to COVID-19 while performing their jobs."

Disclosure: New York State Nurses Association contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY