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Suffering in the trenches

Posted 1/6/21

The New York State Office of Mental Health should be ashamed of the treatment frontline nurses are receiving at the Mid-Hudson Psychiatric Forensic Facility in New Hampton, NY. Seventy nurses care …

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my view

Suffering in the trenches


The New York State Office of Mental Health should be ashamed of the treatment frontline nurses are receiving at the Mid-Hudson Psychiatric Forensic Facility in New Hampton, NY. Seventy nurses care for extremely challenging forensic patients who come to us for evaluation or long-term treatment as remanded by the courts.

When the pandemic hit us last year, along with many other health facilities, we were caught off guard. We ran out of equipment and we struggled with an unknown disease that took the lives of some of our patients and staff. As the second wave approaches, we are faced with the realization that our administration is not concerned with the safety of its nurses.

For years, our nurses have worked in extremely cramped quarters. We do not have nursing stations like the large medical hospitals do. We are confined to small, windowless offices that have poor air circulation. Our buildings are old with antiquated ventilation; we can freeze or suffocate from the heat. In these small offices, two nurses work elbow to elbow. All our equipment is also stored here as well. The medical equipment takes up most of the existing space and includes, for example, crash carts, medication carts, refrigerators, large desks, computers and centrifuges as well as sinks and garbage cans. During the summer months, when COVID-19 was at its worst, we were forced to gown in these same cramped offices. To date, we have not received needed biohazard bins to dispose of used personal protective equipment. We improvised and used paper bags. There still is no separation of clean and dirty areas in our nursing offices. In order to create an illusion of social distancing, the administration offered to hang shower curtains in these offices. The nurses refused this plan outright.

There exist large, adjoining offices that can accommodate the nurses. Staff who occupy these offices have graciously offered to move to other quarters, but the administration continues to drag its feet, and our situation remains dire. We are concerned that when the new wave hits, the administration will be unable to move us as the personnel needed for this project will be needed elsewhere. We are hopeful for the vaccines, but at this point, no one knows exactly how giving them out will work.

As of this moment, we are not receiving any communication from the administration concerning this safety issue. Our emails read like the threads on Facebook. We receive multiple posts filled with political agendas, banners that tell us we are heroes along with pictures of flowers and puppies. Our infection control nurse is assigned to collect data, so we are not receiving this much-needed assistance. Requests for closure from our union, the Public Employees Federation, are going unanswered.

We know that our job is filled with risks, but we are heartbroken that our administration would rather sit in their comfortable and safe offices while we suffer “in the trenches.” There is no rational reason to continue to force nurses to work in unsafe environments where our very lives are at risk.

Oneida Musa, RN, BSN, of Monticello, NY, has been a registered nurse for more than 40 years, specializing in mental health and substance abuse. Musa has always served as an advocate for her patients and follows the ideals set by Mother Teresa: caring for the poorest of the poor.

As she nears retirement, she is saddened to see the fear and discouragement in the eyes of her fellow nurses, especially the younger ones, who need leaders to inspire and guide them. It is her hope that nurses will continue to follow what still is, for many, a vocation, a calling to serve. If there is anything that she can do to realize this goal, there is, for her, no sacrifice too great. She vows to continue to improve the situation at her current place of employment for the betterment of her peers, and ultimately, her patients. They all deserve better.

coronavirus, COVID-19, nursing, health care, New York State Office of Mental Health, Mid-Hudson Psychiatric Forensic Facility


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