Nurses exposed or who’ve been infected with the coronavirus are protesting a new city policy cracking down on absences amid the pandemic.
The April 10 edict from Health + Hospitals requires hospital staffers who call in sick to provide a doctor’s note or documentation to justify their absence from work — or get docked paid sick time.
The new edict blames the victims, infuriated nurses said.
“This is insult on top of injury — literally,” fumed Sean Petty, a nurse who works in the pediatric emergency room at Jacobi Hospital, who is organizing a protest against the new sick policy outside the Bronx hospital Friday.
“People are risking their lives to go to work are being dishonored and disrespected. Don’t blame us for the government’s lack of preparation — the lack of PPE [personal protective equipment], the lack of testing and then turn around to punish us and shame us,” he said.
Nurse Ernestine Thomas, a 27-year veteran at the hospital who got sick with COVID-19 on March 23, found out she was infected when she was tested by her personal doctor, not the city.
“Their concern was staffing — not the health of the staff,” said Thomas, who returned to work in early April.
“If we’re sick and come into work we’re exposing the patients we’re supposed to protect,” she said.
Health + Hospitals, the agency that oversees the city’s network of 11 public hospitals, sent out a controversial April 10 memo citing a surge in staff absences at facilities in recent weeks as a mass of sick coronavirus patients jammed into hospital emergency rooms.
Ernestine Thomas, a registered nurse at Jacobi Medical Center.Christopher Sadowski
The memo suggested workers at some facilities might be taking advantage of the epidemic because there are “very high rates of call outs and absences that do not appear to be consistent with patterns of COVID infection.”
The memo said workers have to provide a doctor’s note or documentation that they had COVID-19 or another illness to justify taking paid sick time.
“Because all of you are critically needed in our facilities, we have to address this issue so that some of our staff is not bearing an extra burden for those who are staying home without approved leave,” the note sent by Health + Hospital’s chief medical officer, Dr. Machelle Allen, and the head of human resources, Yvette Villanueva said in the memo, first obtained by The City.
More than 900 staffers at New York City’s public hospital system have tested positive for the coronavirus and 3,000 have called in sick — revealing how the COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged front-line medical workers as well as patients, according to new data released Wednesday.
About 77 percent of nurses report being exposed to COVID-19 and 13 percent have tested positive, according to the most recent text survey conducted by the New York State Nurses Association — up from prior surveys.
Health + Hospitals had no immediate comment to the protest.
But asked previously about the sick out memo, the agency said, “We are in unprecedented circumstances and our frontline heroes are going above and beyond to keep New Yorkers safe.
“We are doing everything we can to adjust to a rapidly evolving situation, and in the process reduce undue burden on employees and ensure that our facilities are staffed appropriately. Understandably these are frightening times, and we are all pulling together so that we can save more New Yorkers.”
The city is now rolling out a program to test all front-line health care workers.