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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

NYU Winthrop Hospital staff among latest to call for hazard pay

NYU Winthrop Hospital on Mar. 26, 2020 in

NYU Winthrop Hospital on Mar. 26, 2020 in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

NYU Winthrop Hospital joins a growing list of medical institutions under pressure to increase pay for staffers who have worked through the coronavirus pandemic. 

A petition for hazard pay sent by nursing staff at Winthrop to top NYU Langone Health administrators called for a wage increase of “25% to compensate for the hardships and dangers we nurses face throughout the duration of this pandemic.”

The list of grievances, sent in late March and obtained by Newsday Opinion from a Winthrop nurse, is a grim picture of what nurses have gone through in recent weeks, including: 

  • “Housekeeping is not allowed in the rooms, therefore RNs are in charge of cleaning them and emptying the garbage.”
  • “Floors are not cleaned in COVID-19/PUI rooms unless the nurse decides to slide around on the floor with bleach wipes under their feet.”
  • “We are now currently being asked to wear and save our N95 masks for an entire week.”

NYU Langone Health spokeswoman Lisa Greiner confirmed that the petition was received, and sent a statement noting the system’s financial hardships and its efforts to care for staff: “Despite the fact that many significant revenue sources have ceased, our first priority has always been to ensure that our staff are well-equipped with the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) required despite shortages in the market, and to provide necessary staffing resources to care for our Covid patients in order to minimize their exposure.”

Winthrop is hardly alone in experiencing these financial and physical conditions and receiving this push for more pay. 

New York hospitals are looking at millions in losses with the cancellation of elective surgeries and enormous outlays in COVID-19 expenses. Some also have put together packages for front-line workers. That includes Northwell Health, which this week announced a $2,500 payment and one week of paid time off to nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists, housekeepers and other workers. 

NewYork-Presbyterian has publicized a $1,250 bonus for staff who worked physically on site at a hospital campus or clinical office for at least one week’s time in March through April, plus a “care fund” for a financial hardship grant of up to $5,000. 

The Mount Sinai Health System also has a bonus program and the NYU Langone system has informed employees about a staff relief fund modeled after a program developed after superstorm Sandy.

Meanwhile, some employees are taking hospitals to court. In a complaint filed by the New York State Nurses Association in U.S. District Court against Montefiore Medical Center this week, the union said that as of Monday, “at least eight NYSNA RNs have died due to COVID-19 contracted at work” statewide, and dozens more have been hospitalized. 

In a statement, Montefiore said union leadership was choosing “to attack a system, and the commitment of thousands of their colleagues,” but it did not address other aspects of the complaint like the allegation that nurses are “working while they are sick because they have been forced back to work too early.” Or that some are given face shields and a plastic sandwich bag “with two or three wipes to clean the shield.”

On the national level, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, members of Congress and others have called for a federal hazard pay bonus for essential workers at the center of the COVID-19 fight.

The battle over what hospital networks and the country owe to these workers is just beginning.

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