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Nurses to picket N.Y. mayor over Sandy response

Unionized nurses plan to picket New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's home tomorrow and present him with a petition calling for immediate steps to ease what the nurses charge is a mounting patient care crisis in parts of the city still smarting from Sandy.

Nearly 900 nurses have signed the document, which said repairs at two city run hospitals, Bellevue and Coney Island are not moving fast enough. The union, the New York State Nurses Association, said Friday that they wanted the mayor to pressure the state Department of Health to open a temporary hospital in Manhattan. Four Manhattan hospitals are closed because of flood damage. In addition to the two city-run facilities, NYU Langone Medical Center and the Manhattan Veterans Administration Hospital are also closed for repairs."Manhattan has no trauma center below 58th Street and City Hall has taken no action to fill the gap left by the hospital closings," said a union spokesman.

Neither the Bloomberg administration nor the state Department of Health responded to a request for comment.

Though unions traditionally reserve picketing for issues directly related to jobs, the spokesman said that is not the case this time. Nurses at the two closed New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation facilities have been temporarily reassigned to other city hospitals, where many patients and medical services have also been moved. That may be an inconvenience, but they are working and getting paid, he said.

"Only a small percentage of the HHC nurses have elected to take unpaid leave," the spokesman said.

Last month, under an agreement known as the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, New York state officials set up a temporary hospital in Long Beach, L.I. so that staff from Long Beach Medical Center could treat patients who would otherwise have gone to the hospital, closed by Sandy damage. The "mobile satellite emergency department" includes 43-foot trailers designed to house critical care beds, an X-ray unit, a portable field laboratory and other medical equipment. The vehicle and equipment came from Hackensack University Medical Center in Bergen County, N.J., which has other such units available, according to FEMA's website.

The mobile unit would ease overcrowding in acute care hospitals, but that is not the only health need, according to the union. The petition also calls on the mayor to have health officials carry out an assessment of residents' needs in storm-ravaged areas like the Rockaways in Queens, and in Staten Island.

Patricia Kane, a Staten Island University Hospital nurse, said there is a void in primary care in that borough. Ms. Kane was among volunteer nurses who went into the field for days after Sandy hit. FEMA dispatched two ambulances to Staten Island staffed with out-of-state volunteers from urban search and rescue teams. The crews were on standby, and the nurses persuaded them to take the nurses door to door to look for people who needed help.

"We had to beg them on a daily basis, but they took us out," she said. "We found a lot of people with chronic illness who couldn't get prescriptions, and people who needed battery-powered nebulizers to help them breathe."

The nurses union maintains that many residents can't get to primary care offices or to mobile care vans that have been dispatched by the city's hospitals corporation.
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