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Photo courtesy of Corey Finger, NYSNA
A protester outside Wyckoff Heights Medical Center on April 10.

BY KEVIN DUGGAN

Nurses and administrators at the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center on the Brooklyn/Queens border on Friday called on government officials to supply the hospital with more staff, equipment and COVID-19 tests as the facility grapples with a surge in patients due to the viral outbreak.

The lack of sufficient staff and supplies has left workers at the hospital on Bushwick’s Stockholm Street scrambling to adjust to the new conditions, according to one nurse, who said that staff were given scant preparation to fight the virus.

“There was no retraining, no anything,” said Dalia Branford. “It was an absolute nightmare. I literally cried at the end of my shift.”

Branford has been working as a pediatric nurse for the past decade, but had to relearn treating adults when she found her pediatric unit had been converted into a coronavirus facility.

“I had to relearn it while I have a patient who is my responsibility,” Branford said.

Another nurse in the hospital’s intensive care unit said that she and her colleagues are spread very thin as the nurse-to-patient ratios have more than doubled, forcing nurses to care for upwards of four patients at a time — many of whom are in serious conditions struggling with the respiratory disease.

“You do what needs to be done, but you now have to split your time between four patients. You move from one to the next. It’s almost like an assembly line,” said Coleen Peters. “Sometimes it’s so busy you don’t have time for bathroom breaks or lunch.”

The hospital has also struggled to provide the necessary amount of personal protective equipment, such as masks, face shields and gowns, according to Branford.

Staff are only provided with one N95 mask and one pair of scrubs per 12-hour shift, and she said she’s had to use the same medical face shield for the past five shifts.

“If I’m perspiring through it where it’s literally clinging to my skin, you can’t ask me to re-wear it,” Branford said. “It’s not sanitary. I’m going to make myself ill, my co-workers, and my patients.”

The protesters demanded that more frontline healthcare workers get tested for COVID-19, because of their high chance of exposure to the virus, which has already cost the life of one of their co-workers, according to Branford.

“This is horrible given that we live in the 21st century and in a first-world country,” she said.

The hospital — which registered the first coronavirus-related death in New York City on March 14 — has been struggling to secure resources as it competes with other larger healthcare providers, according to a press release by the New York State Nurses Association, which organized a rally to highlight the issue on April 10.

Staff also recently set up a makeshift morgue in refrigerated trailers on Stanhope Street to store the increasing number of dead bodies.

Friday’s protesters demanded that Governor Andrew Cuomo fast-track distribution of tests and protective equipment to the hospitals hardest hit by the health crisis, and for President Donald Trump to authorize the Defense Production Act, which would allow the federal government to force private companies to produce medical equipment to combat the pandemic.

Cuomo announced Friday that he was ramping up antibody testing and that the state is on track to conduct 1,000 of those per day by April 17, and double that the following week, but said that the government would need to scale up to testing “in the millions” in order to tackle the virus.

Wyckoff Heights Medical Center did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

This article first appeared on brooklynpaper.com.

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