New York, NY – The New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) is a 42,000-strong union – the state’s largest union and professional association for registered nurses. LaborPress spoke to NYSNA President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez to learn more about the struggles members are facing in the time of COVID-19.

NYSNA President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, pictured here at a 2018 climate justice rally at Battery Park, fears what budget cuts and the second wave of COVID-19 means for the state’s beleaguered nurses.

“We were already dealing with draconian health care budget cuts from city, state, and federal governments,” she says. “The amount that is spent on the clinical level is low — while money spent on business, administration, marketing, advertisers, electronic medical records system and the like is highest.”

The electronic medical records system, in particular, is “designed to do away with billing staff,” Sheridan-Gonzalez says.

Women comprise the overwhelming majority of NYSNA’s membership — and they are diverse.

“[There are] many immigrants, many first generation people, from most every country, women of color. There is a big assortment,” the president says. “In cities, it’s skewed towards people of color.  Upstate, it’s mostly white.  There are more new, younger millennials now, but also many near retirement. The numbers almost match up.”

The rates of COVID-19 infection are amplified by people “who live in cramped urban environments,” Sheridan-Gonzalez. “How do you isolate from others?”

Additionally, these conditions are amplified by many co-morbidity factors — including environmental justice inequities, such as air pollution.

For-profit hospitals, meanwhile, are crowding out non-profits, making them less accessible to those with little or no insurance and fewer economic resources. 

The ongoing lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) continues to be a huge issue for NYSNA.

“Guidelines were relaxed by the government based on scarcity,” Sheridan-Gonzalez says. “We needed N95 masks. The PPE was not procured. The government didn’t prepare. They also gave bad guidance on how workers could protect themselves.”

Individuals, including the NYNA president’s own son, have taken to fundraising or spending their own money to procure vital PPE.

The Trump Administration also failed to include PPE in their Defense Production Act, Sheridan-Gonzalez adds. “They came through for meat plants – but not us,” she says. 

NYSNA still does not know for sure how many of its frontline members have contracted the coronavirus during the pandemic — or how many ultimately succumbed to the disease — because employers have failed to provide the proper data.

“Over 80-percent of employers would not provide data,” Sheridan-Gonzalez says. “Nineteen-percent did. There were only 1,294 RN’s who tested positive — but many others who didn’t get tests, or had false negatives. I would multiply that by at least five. In my hospital in the Bronx, there were at least six to seven-thousand that were out sick.”

And what about COVID-19’s predicted second wave?

“We are in a hiatus period now,” Sheridan-Gonzalez says. “The people of New York have done a good job trying to navigate matters. We are giving out masks at Black Lives Matter protests. But I am worried. I understand we can relax our strictness right now, but many are not wearing masks [outside, and that is a cause for concern]. We are trying to get back to normal, but there have been layoffs and furloughs. We need to make sure people are tested. We need strict guidelines. We are very short on supplies.” 


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