Park Slope pol plans bill to protect whistle-blowing healthcare workers

Brad Lander
Councilman Brad Lander plans to introduce legislation to protect healthcare workers from being fired for speaking out about hospital conditions.
Photo by William Alatriste for the New York City Council

Park Slope Councilman Brad Lander plans to introduce legislation aimed at protecting healthcare workers from being fired or punished for speaking out about health and safety conditions, the legislator announced on Friday.

“At a time when the very lives of our hospital and health care workers are on the line, it is unconscionable that they would be fired for ringing the alarm bell about health and safety issues,” said Lander in a statement. “It is imperative that we stand up for these doctors, nurses, and health care workers, listen to and lift up their concerns, and ensure that they cannot be unjustly fired for telling the truth about the conditions they face.”

The proposed bill would provide whistleblower protections for healthcare staff, and comes on the heels of reports that private hospital executives had threatened to fire workers if they spoke out against worsening conditions amid the coronavirus outbreak.

According to a Politico report executives at Mount Sinai Health System, NYU Langone Health, and Northwell Health — all of which have facilities in Brooklyn — were trying to limit what their employees could say to the press and on social media platforms, which has become an important tool for outsiders to see how the outbreak of COVID-19 has ravaged the city’s health providers.

One of the most jarring examples was at a Manhattan hospital operated by Mount Sinai, where three nurses posed in a hallway wearing black trash bags because they were short on safety gear, according to the New York Post.

At the city-owned Coney Island Hospital in Sheepshead Bay workers were only given one face mask per week, Brooklyn Paper previously reported.

Inside reports have also shown the dire situation at the public Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, which has become the epicenter of the city’s COVID-19 outbreak.

The head of the city’s public hospital system said at a press conference that employees would not get fired for speaking to the press.

“You talk to the media, you run the risk of being fired. We don’t believe in that,” said Dr. Mitchell Katz, the chief executive Officer of NYC Health + Hospitals.

Lander’s proposal, which would be modeled after his similar piece of legislation to protect fast food workers from being unfairly fired, has the backing of a cadre of fellow council members, like Manhattan’s Carlina Rivera — who said it was imperative to get the full picture of the devastation inside hospitals.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, New Yorkers deserve the truth about the conditions in our hospitals, even when the news is very dire,” said Rivera.