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For Immediate Release
August 12, 2020

Kowal: Prepare hospitals now for potential coronavirus resurgence

The state must act now to aggressively support SUNY’s public teaching hospitals to prepare for a potential resurgence of coronavirus in the fall.

United University Professions President Frederick E. Kowal sent that message to state legislators at a joint public hearing today on the impact of COVID-19 on hospitals. Testifying remotely, Kowal told lawmakers that SUNY’s hospitals must refill depleted personal protection equipment (PPE) supplies to protect frontline workers from exposure to the coronavirus, while tending to those in need of care.

Much-needed financial support from the state must be forthcoming to handle the pandemic and other health emergencies in New York state, he said.

Acute PPE shortages, like those that hospitals in New York City and Long Island endured at the height of the pandemic in the state, can never happen again.

Health-care providers at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University Hospital and Stony Brook University Hospital—who are represented by UUP—were forced to re-sterilize and reuse N95 masks and other single-use PPE. Things became so dire that some UUP members resorted to wearing trash bags as gowns to protect themselves from contracting the virus.

“Many of our members wore plastic bags over their shoes secured with rubber bands as they dealt with stubborn PPE shortages that would not abate,” Kowal said. “Others took it upon themselves to hunt for and purchase PPE.”

UUP came to the aid of its members; the union purchased 100,000 isolation gowns, 50,000 face masks, 46,000 N95 masks, 14,200 pairs of Nitrile gloves and 1,500 face shields that were donated to the hospitals. The union is now purchasing foot coverings, surgical bonnets and gloves.

“We can never again allow our members, our colleagues, our families, our friends and community to be put at such risk,” Kowal said.

Kowal said that nearly a half-year after the pandemic began, health-care providers on the front lines of the pandemic at SUNY’s hospitals have yet to receive hazard pay for their heroic measures.

That includes UUP members at SUNY Downstate, designated as a COVID-19-only facility in March, at the start of the pandemic in New York state. Stony Brook hospital also saw many COVID-19 patients.

“I implore you to do right by our heroes and find funds to provide hazard pay for our essential workers,” Kowal said. “Are the sacrifices our public employees worth less than those of workers on the front lines of the pandemic at Northwell Health, NYC Health + Hospitals or New York University’s teaching hospitals?”

The union president also called for approval of the HEROES Act and urged legislators to pass new taxes on billionaires and ultra-millionaires who live in New York state, which would serve as new revenue streams for the state. UUP supports a pied-a-terre tax and a reduction or elimination of the stock transfer tax.

“We must all pay our fair share,” he said. “For too long, the ultra-rich have not paid their share. The time for this to end—out of necessity as well as fairness—is now.”

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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