BROOKLYN — While the latest COVID Omicron variant and infection rate is not as deadly as the original surge, battle-tested and beleaguered health care workers at SUNY Downstate are clamoring for more staff.
“It’s a stressful situation because there is so much to do,” said Deborah Remington, a certified nursing assistant (CNA) who often works in the unit assigned to COVID patients. “There is no way that you can provide services for all those patients in eight hours.”
Remington, a two-time cancer survivor who hasn’t been infected with the virus to date, said the average number of patients per CNA should be about eight or nine. Currently, there is only one CNA for an average of 28 patients which requires checking vital signs, bathing and often feeding patients since cafeteria staff are not allowed in those rooms.
“[To meet staffing demands] they have to bring in staff from other hospitals and bring people from other units,” Remington said.
CSEA is working with New York state to address understaffing at health care and other facilities. The COVID pandemic has shined a light on structural staffing deficits that existed before the pandemic. Much of those deficits stem from an inability to recruit new workers due to low starting wages, worsened by the crushing demands of mandatory overtime. Last fall, CSEA had reached an agreement with the state to provide a temporary overtime increase of 2.5 times the workers’ regular pay in eligible titles at SUNY Downstate, as well as SUNY Upstate in Syracuse and SUNY Stony Brook on Long Island. The increases have since been put into place in other state agencies.
While the Omicron variant isn’t claiming as many lives and the hospital is not filled with patients on ventilators, Remington said conditions at the hospital seem worse since there aren’t enough workers to deal with patients.
“I place myself in the position of the patient or if the patient were my mother,” said Remington. “I am dedicated to doing what is right.”
During some of the darkest days of the pandemic the hospital was declared COVID-only, refrigerated containers were used as morgues and one day, within the span of 15 minutes, Remington recalled, 10 patients died.
Many who worked through the pandemic, she said, retired or quit and haven’t been replaced. The pandemic has also taken an emotional and mental health toll on workers.
While COVID deaths have dropped significantly due to the vaccine, the majority of the patients coming to SUNY Downstate for treatment now haven’t been vaccinated, Remington said.
“I was crying every day,” Remington said of the height of the pandemic.
— David Galarza