Mail this story to a friend.          
NYSNYS NEWS: WIth Legislature mired in scandal, advocated urge action on hospital staffing, meningitis vaccine mandate.
NYSNYS NEWS: WIth Legislature mired in scandal, advocated urge action on hospital staffing, meningitis vaccine mandate.

By Kyle Hughes

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 21) With scandal threatening to derail the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers back from spring break Tuesday faced demands for action from nurses warning of unsafe hospitals and families devastated by meningitis deaths.

The healthcare advocates traveled to Albany as the attention of lawmakers remained focused on the deepening corruption scandals that have engulfed the leadership of both the Senate and Assembly.

Tuesday, about 1,000 members of the NYS Nurses Association rallied to draw attention to what they say is a staffing crisis, where nurses are called on to work extra shifts to cover for a shortage of care-givers. Some nurses volunteer to work one or two extra shifts a week to cover for the shortage, said Kim Moore of Malta, Saratoga County, a nurse at Ellis Hospital's Bellevue campus. The overtime shifts are 12 hours long.

"We have too few nurses and we have a high vacancy rate," Moore said. "A lot of people are quitting because they don't like the conditions they work in."

The nurses union urged support for the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act, which sets minimum staffing levels for all hospitals. They measure has faced opposition from hospital groups that says mandatory staff-to-patient ratios will result in the closing of services and reducing beds available to care for the sick.

Shortly after the nurses dispersed to visit legislative offices, family members of people who have died from meningitis held a press conference to call for passing a bill requiring students to be vaccinated as a requirement to attend school.

The current vaccination rate of 80 percent is too low, they said, with those under greatest risk for falling ill young adults aged 16-21 living in college dormitories and anyone who is HIV-positive.

Patti Wukovitz, a Long Island nurse, described the agonizing death of her daughter Kimberly, 17, from meningococcal disease in 2012.

"Kim was just days away from high school graduation and from her prom when she came down with what seemed like the flu Although Kim was immediately diagnosed and treated promptly and appropriately, meningitis still took her life after several days on life support," Wukovits said.

She said if her daughter had survived, she would have had to have all of her limbs amputated because the bacteria infected her bloodstream.

"She would have been a quadruple amputee," Wukovitz said. "We had just purchased her a beautiful prom dress. She loved it so much that we decided to bury her in it."

The Medical Society of the State of New York, the Academy of Family Physicians and other groups urged support for a bill sponsored by Assembly member Eileen Gunther (D-Sullivan County) and Senator Kemp Hannon (R-Nassau County) to add meningitis vaccinations to the standard vaccination schedule for 6th and 11th grade students in New York.

They said that so far this year, meningitis cases have been reported at the University of Rochester, Yale, Providence College and the University of Oregon. They said 10-15 percent of those contracting the disease die, while the rest can suffer loss of limbs, deafness and other serious life long complications.

Beside healthcare issues, Legislators have a long agenda of unfinished business to address before the June 17 scheduled end of the 2015 session. It is unclear how much they can get done by then. Their return Tuesday was the first session since the budget passed on April 1.

The Assembly opened the 2015 session with the arrest and indictment of former Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), who faces federal trial on bribery and fraud charges. His successor Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) faced questions this week after The New York Times revealed he was able to keep the proceeds of $200,000 in stolen money embezzled by his mother, after Bronx official did not follow through on court orders to seek restitution.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Nassau County) and his son are under investigation by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for a series of questionable payments and contracts. The Senate's number two leader, Senator Tom Libous (R-Binghamton), faces federal trial on separate charges that he lied to federal agents about his actions involving his son.

The son, Matthew Libous, a lawyer, faces prison and disbarment after being convicted in federal court in January on felony tax evasion charges.