Healthcare workers union head slams Howard Zucker for PPE claims

ALBANY — The head of the nation’s largest healthcare workers union slammed New York’s top health official Friday for claiming that hospital workers had enough PPE during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

“1199SEIU members and other first responders have been risking their lives . . . They selflessly went into rooms of infected patients without the PPE needed to keep themselves safe,” 1199SEIU president George Gresham seethed in a withering statement of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s health chief.

“It is unconscionable that their accounts of what they experienced in institutions are being questioned . . . Our members didn’t and still don’t have time to play politics – they’re too busy fighting to save lives.”

Health Commissioner Howard Zucker cast doubt at a legislative hearing Wednesday on widespread reports that nurses and other healthcare workers were dangerously short on personal protective gear to fight COVID-19 in the spring.

“Just because something is reported doesn’t mean those are the facts of what is actually happening and what’s reported on the news,” Zucker said.

He claimed he talked frequently to nurses, physicians and hospital administrators regularly who told him a different story.

“I can tell you that in those conversations with those physicians and those nurses, they said, ‘We have the PPE that is needed,’” he said.

The comments contradict shocking images of frontline nurses dressed in trash bags to treat sick patients infected with the deadly disease.

The New York State Association of Nurses even filed a lawsuit against Cuomo, the state health department and two other hospitals over the dire lack of protective gear.

Officials from the state’s largest hospital network — Northwell Health — were desperately shopping in hardware stores purchasing garden hoses to make ventilators received from the state work, it was later revealed in a new book.

The DOH has mandated that hospitals stockpile a 90-day supply of PPE going forward, according to regulations submitted to the state in July.

The state Health Department could not be reached for immediate comment.

A representative from Cuomo’s office said the governor was busy getting ready for a conference call briefing with reporters, and was also unavailable for immediate comment.

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