Coney Island hospital workers given one face mask per week: sources

Photo by Paul Martinka

Healthcare workers at a southern Brooklyn hospital are given only one face mask per week as the number of COVID-19 patients surges, sources say. 

Every day before my shift I’m ridden with anxiety,” said an emergency room provider at Coney Island Hospital, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely about the hospital’s conditions. “We’re really risking our lives and we’re not being protected.” 

Emergency service providers at Coney Island Hospital, a city-run hospital in Sheepshead Bay, must sign in once a week in order to get one N95 face mask, which they’re expected to use for five days, according to four different workers at the hospital.  

The practice puts the lives of workers and patients in danger, since masks are supposed to be changed every time a worker comes into contact with a COVID-19 patient, employees said.

After a 12-hour shift, this mask becomes ill-fitting,” said one worker. “This is really not the appropriate setting for us to work in.”

Coney Island Hospital is currently treating about 210 patients who either have COVID-19 or are highly suspected to have it, an inside source said, taking up a significant portion of the hospital’s 371 beds. As of March 30, coronavirus patients occupied 2.5 of the hospital’s four units — and insiders suspect that the hospital is nearing capacity.

It’s definitely getting there,” said an employee in emergency services. “It is definitely more than we’re used to seeing.”

To treat the influx of patients, nurses who are typically assigned to a maximum of six people are now treating between 10 and 15, increasing the chances that they catch the disease or transmit it to another patient. 

The shortage of face masks and total lack of shoe covers and face shields also increase employees’ risk. So far, several have called out ill or have come to work while suffering symptoms. 

“I’ve seen on our schedule that people are sick and it says, ‘COVID,'” said a medical provider in the ER. “People come in not feeling well, but they have to work.” 

Last week, a local pharmacy and a Chinese-American organization donated around 1,500 masks to the hospital combined. Now, staffers are wondering where their donations have gone.

A spokeswoman for the hospital said that the hospital makes use of all donated equipment, but can only use certain types of Personal Protective Equipment to treat COVID-19 according to safety protocols, limiting what gets distributed to workers. 

And while she did not deny that employees receive one mask every five days, she said that the hospital is following city and state guidelines and claimed there’s enough protective gear for everyone.

“Like all health systems across the country, we have [Personal Protective Equipment] conservation efforts in place to ensure we continue to have the supplies our staff need,” said Rosanne Mottola. “Any staff member who needs PPE can get it.”

Mottola added that the hospital was not near capacity and said the the hospital has an “adequate supply” of ventilators.

Coney Island Hospital is one of many medical centers lacking gear, space, and employees as COVID-19 continues to spread. One Dyker Heights resident said her cousin working at Brookdale Hospital in Brownsville gets almost no PPE.

“They don’t have any masks; they don’t have any gowns. If they do have masks, they have to use them for a week,” said Daniela Romano.

Romano’s cousin must also continue to work, despite having coronavirus symptoms, she said. 

She’s been home sick for three days, and possibly has the virus, and she’s expected to go back tomorrow if she doesn’t have a fever,” Romano said. “The other day they gave her five known COVID patients and they didn’t tell her anything. Afterwards they told her, ‘Oh yeah, they tested positive for COVID.’”