BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — Union leaders say nurses at Mercy Hospital of Buffalo are being denied breaks to remove their masks, eat lunch, get a drink of water or go to the restroom.
CWA Local 1133 reaching out to 7 Eyewitness News to share their story.
“It’s imperative that we are treated like human beings,” stated Carrie Dilbert, vice president, CWA Local 1133. “It’s absolutely heart breaking.”
Since the start of the pandemic nearly a year ago, health care workers have been hailed as heroes for caring for COVID patients.
But the union says Mercy Hospital nurses are begging them for help because they are being denied breaks.
“That are requesting water — please could I just get some water — could I get some food and I have ignorant responses back from the managers,” explained Jackie Ettipio, union president.
Some nurses at Mercy Hospital say that they're not getting their mask breaks and lunch breaks, but they won't go on camera fearing retribution for speaking out.
One mercy hospital nurse only agreed to let us record her comments if we distorted her voice because she says she fears punishment for complaining.
“We’re expected to take care of patients in their most critical form — and we're being denied the basic, human right to use the restroom,” the nurse stated. “It’s never in regard to the care you're giving a patient, it's usually simple things — you have your cell phone at work and we're going to come after you and write you up for that."
Ettipio and Dilbert say some nurses are working six to eight hours without a mask break.
“But nurses are going six to eight hours without breaks there's wounds on their faces that aren't healing,” described Ettipio.
“I’ve seen it happen and it’s very heart breaking. The nurses and the staff at south Buffalo Mercy Hospital need their lunches and breaks,” Dilbert said.
Catholic Health issued the following written statement regarding masks breaks for registered nurses at Mercy Hospital:
"The past year has been a challenging time for hospitals throughout our community and across the country. The recent pre- and post-holiday surge in COVID patients, combined with seasonal patient volume increases for all hospitals, has made the recruitment of nurses to augment staff during this unprecedented time particularly difficult. Mercy Hospital proactively brought in dozens of agency nurses to fill shifts and provide additional relief breaks for nurses working in its critical care and medical/surgical units, while continuing to actively recruit permanent full-time nurses. The declining COVID positivity rate across the region is a hopeful sign that is contributing to the overall reduction of COVID patients at Mercy Hospital. As always, we welcome input from our nursing staff and are committed to working with the union on matters that improve the work environment for our associates. We thank our nurses and all our frontline caregivers for their dedication throughout this pandemic."
Union leaders said managers at mercy are not following Catholic Health's own respiratory policy.
“This is their respiratory protection program, on page 38 it states that the masks should be removed every two to four hours,” Ettipio responded.
The union says there is also this memorandum of understanding for nurse at St. Joseph Hospital in Cheektowaga, currently all COVID care, that provides health care workers with masks breaks ever two to four hours.