Nurses in New York take demand for protective gear to the streets

Ruth E. Hernandez Beltran

New York, Apr 17 (efe-epa).- Nurses at a public hospital in New York, the global center of the Covid-19 pandemic, mounted a protest Friday over authorities’ failure to provide them with masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) and a new rule requiring them to produce a doctor’s note when they call in sick.

The demonstration took place outside Jacobi Medical Center in the Big Apple borough of the Bronx.

The virus has claimed nearly 13,000 lives in New York City and the boroughs of Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx lead all counties in the United States in the number of Covid-19 deaths.

New York’s nurses have been complaining for weeks about the lack of PPE and images of health-care workers using garbage bags as a substitute have circulated widely on social media.

But the spark for Friday’s mobilization appears was the new policy on sick days handed down by Health & Hospitals Corporation, which manages the city’s 11 public hospitals.

Participants in the protest described the directive as “outrageous, “cruel” and “an insult.”

“Before you needed a note from a doctor if it was more than three days. Now, for whatever reason, you need a note even for one day. They also aren’t wanting to pay if you use your sick days,” Jacobi staff member Kelly Cabrera, the New York-born daughter of Ecuadorian immigrants, told Efe.

“How, during a pandemic when we are working as hard as we can, in which many of our workers have gotten sick and died, is this city committing this injustice,” the 28-year-old emergency room nurse asked rhetorically.

Cabrera, the leader of the New York State Nurses Association chapter at Jacobi, said she fears that the lessons of the Covid-19 crisis will be forgotten as soon as the danger passes.

Passing motorists honked their horns to show support for the protesters, who carried signs with slogans such as “If we work sick, you get sick. #PPE Now,” and “Patients over Profits.”

Sean Petty, a Nurses Association official who also works in the ER at Jacobi, decried the lack of organization and coordination that put health-care workers in such a difficult situation.

“We had a hodge-podge of public and private institutions, rich hospitals and poor hospitals, city, state and federal agencies who are all on different pages and not working in any seriously unified way to deal with what we needed. In New York (state), we started out this crisis with 20,000 less hospital beds than we had 20 years ago along with less doctors and nurses to staff those beds,” he said.

Also present for the demonstration was Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, president of the state nurses union and one of the 5,000 medical workers in New York to have tested positive for the coronavirus.

“Many are sick, others have died,” she said. “Everybody is afraid. When you cough, you’re afraid, when you have a fever, you’re afraid. Nobody knows what’s going to happen, but we keep working.” EFE


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