OSHA alleges COVID safety violations by Albany Med, seeks $41K penalty

Albany Medical Center nurses picket in front of the hospital on Dec. 1.
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Albany Medical Center nurses picket in front of the hospital on Dec. 1.

ALBANY — A federal regulator has cited Albany Medical Center for three alleged workplace safety violations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration charged that starting Nov. 1, Albany Med in some circumstances did not provide N95 filtering respirators for registered nurses in certain departments, did not check that the devices were sealing correctly and did not check that the nurses knew how to determine if they were sealing properly.

OSHA classified each of the violations as “serious” and on March 8 proposed a total of $40,959 in penalties.

Albany Medical Center on March 10 contested the violations. The matter is still open.

The New York State Nurses Association, locked in a long-running and often bitter contract dispute with Albany Med, publicized the situation Friday.

The union’s news release quoted nurse Tonia Bazel as saying: “AMC management has never taken COVID protocols seriously. OSHA has confirmed what we have been saying for months. We, as nurses, are doing everything we can to keep people safe and healthy without the help of our management.”

N95 availability has been a long-running complaint by nurses unhappy that Albany Med was sanitizing and reusing some of these masks as much as 20 times. When the nurses filed the OSHA complaint in late 2020, they said guidelines called for hospitals to reuse masks like this only in crisis, when the masks were in short supply.

N95s were in very short supply at times earlier in 2020.

In some of their frequent briefings via YouTube in 2020, Albany Med CEO Dr. Dennis McKenna and Hospital General Director Dr. Fred Venditti assured viewers that the procedure for sanitizing and reusing equipment was safe, effective and compliant with protocol.

Albany Med in a prepared statement denied wrongdoing Tuesday. It said:

  • Albany Med requires its health care workers to wear N95s and they have been doing so throughout the pandemic.
  • Employees who wear N95s were instructed on the simple task of checking the seals and signed statements attesting that they knew how to do the test.
  • New N95s have been available for anyone who needs one.
  • Albany Med’s supply of N95s has been and remains sufficient.

It added:

“Albany Med has contested these citations and looks forward to presenting its side of the story. OSHA informed us that the investigation would remain open until May 1. We would have hoped OSHA would have gathered more information and closed its investigation before making any citation.”

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