Albany Med shutting down oncology unit after repeated COVID outbreaks

Albany Medical Center nurses rally in front of the hospital on Labor Day.
Albany Medical Center nurses rally in front of the hospital on Labor Day.

ALBANY — The nurses union at Albany Medical Center went public Tuesday with its concerns about the hospital’s cancer unit and the dozens of COVID cases that have originated there.

The New York Nurses Association alleged that management’s failure to provide enough personal protective equipment, follow infection controls and listen to nurses led to 54 infections in three separate outbreaks in as many months that left at least one person dead and caused the state Department of Health to order the oncology unit shut down.

The hospital countered that there were only 48 infections, it decided on its own to halt new admissions and close the unit, and it has been working on COVID-19 control measures in coordination with the state DOH for the past year.

The union and management at Albany Med are locked in a protracted and sometimes bitter stalemate in their contract negotiations. The union has held numerous streetside rallies, staged a one-day strike, and filed unfair labor practice complaints with the National Labor Relations Board.

The state Department of Health personnel assigned to field media inquiries did not return a request for comment for this story, nor even acknowledge that the request had been made.

NYSNA released a Jan. 18 letter (with personal details redacted) from a nurse to the state Department of Health imploring it to take action, because only a handful of nurses on the unit had not been infected. In a news release Tuesday, NYSNA said 28 staff and 26 patients had been infected, and said the state was taking action after months of complaints by nurses to the state DOH and to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The situation was reported in Tuesday’s edition of the Times Union newspaper.

Later Tuesday, in one of their regular COVID updates on YouTube, Albany Med officials addressed the accusations. Hospital CEO Dr. Dennis McKenna said the newspaper’s report gave the impression that the state Department of Health had taken over operation of the oncology unit, which is not the case. The two have collaborated and DOH accepted Albany Med’s recommendations, he said. Hospital General Director Dr. Fred Venditti took a swipe at the union: Albany Med has very strong infection control protocols, he said, but the employees need to follow them for them to be effective.


Also Tuesday, the state reported that 2,024,225 first-dose vaccinations have been administered so far. About 10 million New Yorkers are eligible to be vaccinated as of Monday morning, when eligibility expanded to include many people with pre-existing medical conditions.

(A day earlier on Sunday, when the state appointment portal opened for this newly eligible group, 250,924 vaccinations were scheduled, the most ever in a single day.)

Among those vaccinated in New York, the vast majority continue to be white. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made a priority of reaching out to minority communities to encourage and enable them to be vaccinated but the state says it has encountered resistance to the idea, particularly among Black people.

  • In the Capital Region, 92.4% of recipients are white, 3.3% Black and 2.9% Asian, with 1.7% self-identifying as ethnic Hispanic. The region’s pool of eligible recipients is 91.6% white, 5.1% Black, 2.4% Asian and 2.5% Hispanic.
  • In the Mohawk Valley, 96.9% of recipients are white, 1.5% Black and 1.0% Asian, with 2.4% self-identifying as ethnic Hispanic. That region’s pool of eligible recipients is 95.3% white, 2.7% Black, 1.3% Asian and 2.7% Hispanic.
  • In New York City, the least-white region of the state, 58.2% of recipients are white, 14.4% Black and 19.9% Asian, with 16.0% self-identifying as ethnic Hispanic. That region’s pool of eligible recipients is 52.1% white, 30.6% Black, 14.3% Asian and 24.1% Hispanic.


  • The seven-day positive COVID test rate on Tuesday stood at 3.7% statewide, 2.3% in the Capital Region and 2.0% in the Mohawk Valley. At the county level, the rate was Albany 2.3%, Fulton 7.1%, Montgomery 4.8%, Rensselaer 1.5%, Saratoga 2.2%, Schenectady 2.6% and Schoharie 2.2%
  • Statewide on Monday, 6,620 people were hospitalized with COVID, including 241 in the Capital Region and 139 in the Mohawk Valley. The state’s official COVID death toll increased 107 to 37,328. Two of those deaths were in the Capital Region — one each in Albany and Columbia counties.

Categories: -News-, Schenectady County

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