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DOH Responds to COVID Infections in Albany Cancer Ward

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A complaint has been filed with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration about COVID protocols at Albany Medical Center. (Vadi Fuoco/Adobe Stock)
A complaint has been filed with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration about COVID protocols at Albany Medical Center. (Vadi Fuoco/Adobe Stock)
 By Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY - Producer, Contact
February 17, 2021

ALBANY, N.Y. - No new patients are being admitted to Albany Medical Center's oncology unit, after dozens of patients and staff there have been infected with COVID-19.

At least 26 staff and 22 patients in the cancer unit have been infected since November, and the union representing nurses has said at least one person has died of COVID complications.

According to David Pratt, health and safety representative with the New York State Nurses Association, the state Department of Health ordered the hospital to take emergency measures after nurses filed complaints, including failure by the hospital to provide adequate personal protective equipment.

"Apparently, the DOH doesn't feel confident that the administration can run that unit appropriately," he said, "and that's a tragedy, because that unit is needed."

A spokesperson for Albany Medical Center said the DOH has not ordered changes in the oncology unit but acknowledged the unit has been closed to new admissions. The hospital has said the supply of PPE is adequate and patients in the cancer unit are kept in private rooms as much as possible.

However, Pratt contended that as recently as last Friday, there still were problems with patient accommodations and other protocols.

"We know that patients were still being housed together, some of them," he said. "We know that the employer was not doing rigorous testing of patients, and we know that when they started doing more testing, they would test, not wait for the results, and send the patient up to the unit."

The nurses' union has said at least nine of the staff and patient COVID infections in the unit have occurred in the last two weeks.

Pratt added that complaints about infection-control practices at the hospital also have been filed with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

"Nurses on a number of units have spoken to OSHA, and that's one avenue that we're pursing in terms of protective equipment," he said. "We have another unit where the ventilation is very poor. This is a time when ventilation needs to be better."

OSHA recently contacted one of the nurses who filed the complaint, which union official say indicates an investigation is in progress.

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.
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