For Immediate Release

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Contact: 

press@nationalnursesunited.org or Jonathan Weitz 646-460-7734

Brooklyn VA Medical Center RNs to Hold Action at Shift Change to Demand Critical PPE and Appropriate Staffing to Care for Patients During the COVID-19 Pandemic

WASHINGTON - To protest the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline health care workers and the dangerously inadequate staffing levels at VA hospitals during this COVID-19 pandemic, registered nurses at the Brooklyn VA are holding an action during their evening shift change this Monday, April 6, announced National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU) today.

Due to short staffing, RNs in the Brooklyn VA intensive care unit are caring for as many as five COVID-19 patients at one time while the standard of care is usually a maximum of two ICU patients to one RN, or even a maximum of one, depending on patient acuity.

“We are only able to provide the very basic level of care and it’s just subpar care to the patients with a five-to-one ratio,” said Maria Lobifaro, a registered nurse in the intensive care unit and a union steward. Lobifaro said she had to object when she was pressured by management to care for a sixth intubated patient on a recent shift. “We are already working under such terrible conditions, dangerous conditions. There has to be a time when we say enough is enough. We need more RNs now.” 

“What we are seeing in the Brooklyn VA is an absolute travesty,” said Corey Lanham, the VA Division Director for NNOC/NNU. “We have ICU nurses who are caring for five intubated patients at one time. These five patients are completely dependent on the RNs to assess their condition and ensure they have the oxygen levels necessary to survive, as well as to administer medications that are specifically prescribed for each patient that must be adjusted as the patient’s condition changes. In addition, these nurses must turn these patients and clean these patients as they are unable to turn or clean themselves. Despite these conditions, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has not sent urgently needed staffing help to New York City.”

What: Shift change action and RN media availability

Who: RN members of National Nurses United and concerned veterans

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Where: 800 Poly Place, Brooklyn, New York (Outside Gates of Main Entrance)

When: Monday, April 6, 6:45 p.m. ET

NNOC/NNU is calling on President Trump to immediately exercise full executive powers under the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of N95 respirator masks and other critical personal protective equipment and to ensure the immediate and continued distribution of this equipment to nurses and other health care workers on the front lines.

Furthermore, NNOC/NNU is calling on the VA to immediately deploy properly trained RNs to the Brooklyn VA and other VA facilities to assist in caring for critically ill patients in units that are dangerously short-staffed. 

“The coronavirus pandemic threatens to overwhelm VA hospitals in NYC, but this crisis can be avoided if VA leadership does the right thing,” said Skip Delano, a Vietnam Army veteran and a member of Veterans for Peace. “The VA must provide the nurses and doctors on the ground the necessary medical resources, including personal protective equipment, so they can continue to provide world-class healthcare to veterans like myself. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie must address a long-standing problem at all VA hospitals by acting immediately to fill the more than 40,000 positions he has allowed to go unfilled since he was appointed in 2018.  We 9 million veterans who depend on the VA medical services are adamant that our nurses and doctors should not be left short-handed nor without all the medical resources and back-up staff they need in this national emergency. “ 

Corey Lanham warns, “If Secretary Wilkie and the VA administration fail to provide the necessary staffing and personal protective equipment to the Brooklyn VA, and to other VA facilities around the country, we fear will see unnecessary deaths of both veterans and civilian patients as well as our registered nurses and other health care workers.”

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National Nurses United, with close to 185,000 members in every state, is the largest union and professional association of registered nurses in US history.

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