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For Immediate Release
March 21, 2020

Kowal: Poor federal leadership has led to hospital shortages

UUP President Fred Kowal, angered by the Trump administration’s ongoing ineptitude in handling the coronavirus outbreak, blamed the president’s lack of leadership for drastic shortages of medical face masks and other vital personal protective equipment at hospitals across the country, including at SUNY’s three public teaching hospitals.

“It is incredible that there is a shortage of virtually every piece of protective equipment that our members at SUNY’s academic medical centers need to keep themselves healthy as they care for those who have contracted COVID-19,” said Kowal. “At the same time, the president says millions of masks have been ordered but doesn’t tell us when they will be available and passes the buck to governors when it comes to getting the gear.

“What we need are masks, gloves, gowns, and eye gear—not lies, exaggerations, excuses and platitudes from President Trump,” Kowal said. “The lives of health care professionals—many of whom are our members working on the front lines of fighting this virus—are at stake and I will not remain silent and accept these bogus explanations and this untenable situation."

With hospitals unable to obtain new supplies, health care workers have been forced to reuse hospital gowns, masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment.

The shortage of personal protective equipment has become so dire that the Centers for Disease Control is advising health care workers to use old and expired medical face masks and surgical masks, and to reuse face masks. As a last resort, the CDC has approved the use of bandanas, scarves and other kinds of homemade masks.

This is a major concern for UUP members at SUNY’s teaching hospitals in Brooklyn, Stony Brook and Syracuse. The Downstate Health Sciences University is designated as an emergency pandemic center.

Kowal praised Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his leadership during the outbreak and thanked him for being outspoken about the potential impact of the coronavirus pandemic on New York hospitals.

However, he urged the governor to exercise caution regarding enacting nearly 50 proposals in a new report by the Medicaid Redesign Team II to reduce state Medicaid spending in the 2020-21 state budget. Those proposals include extending a December across-the-board Medicaid reduction and a nearly $400 million cut to hospitals.

Kowal said the state could use revenue from an enhanced millionaire’s tax and new taxes on the ultra-wealthy to ensure that SUNY’s public teaching hospitals are properly funded.

“It is prudent and responsible to ask the wealthiest in our society to contribute more to the social compact, which allows us to provide essential public services such as education, and in this moment, life-saving health care,” Kowal said.

UUP is the nation's largest higher education union, with more than 42,000 academic and professional faculty and retirees. UUP members work at 29 New York state-operated campuses, including SUNY’s public teaching hospitals and health science centers in Brooklyn, Long Island and Syracuse. It is an affiliate of NYSUT, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and the AFL-CIO.

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