“We can’t be in two places at once”: Thousands of nurses on strike for lower staffing ratios

“We can’t be in two places at once”: Thousands of nurses on strike for lower staffing ratios

Thousands of nurses walked off the job Monday morning, calling for two major NYC hospitals to lower nurse-to-patient ratios as negotiations between their union and management stalled.

Around 7,000 nurses based at multiple campuses across Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx and Mount Sinai Hospital in and one Mount Sinai Hospital network campus in Manhattan are participating in the strike, according to union officials from the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA).

Outside Montefiore’s Moses campus in Norwood, dozens of nurses wearing red beanies chanted “safe staffing saves lives,” and “every patient is a VIP,” as they marched around the perimeter of the hospital.

“We try to provide the care we can, but the reality is we can’t be in two places at once,” said nurse Nicola Nichol, 31. “We’re walking today, not for the money but for adequate nursing staff — and that comes right back to taking care of our patients.”

Emergency room nurse Ana Villeda said sometimes nurses there take on as many as 20 patients at a time. As Gothamist previously reported, significant research shows that low nurse staffing levels in hospitals can negatively impact patient outcomes, including mortality rates.

“We have patients in the hallways, and we don’t have enough monitors to put them on, putting their life at risk,” Villeda said. “We’re out here fighting for change, so our patients can receive better care. The nurses don’t want to be out here striking. We want to be inside with our patients.”

Last-minute negotiations Sunday staved off strikes at two other Mount Sinai campuses, union officials said — with parties agreeing upon an 18% wage increase over three years and improved staffing ratios. Part of those deliberations involved a proposal from Gov. Kathy Hochul for hospitals and the nursing union to agree to binding arbitration. Doing so would have allowed talks to continue but nullified the strike.

Nurses begin a picket line at Mount Sinai Hospital in Harlem, after a flurry of recent negotiations failed to yield a labor contract at the medical center. Nurses with Montefiore Medical Center are also striking in the Bronx. Photo taken Jan. 9, 2023.

Caroline Lewis

Several other hospitals facing the potential of a strike have reached similar deals since the new year began, including at NewYork-Presbyterian, Maimonides Medical Center, and BronxCare Health System, among others. Thousands of NYSNA members first threatened the strike ahead of Christmas and then gave 10-day notice on Dec. 30 of their plans to demonstrate.

But negotiations at Montefiore and Mount Sinai remained at a standstill at the remaining Montefiore and Mount Sinai as a deadline passed Monday morning to reach a deal. Reps for Mount Sinai said NYSNA walked away from the bargaining table overnight.

“Despite Montefiore’s offer of a 19.1% compounded wage increase—the same offer agreed to at the wealthiest of our peer institutions—and a commitment to create over 170 new nursing positions, and despite a call from Governor Hochul for arbitration, The New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) leadership has decided to walk away from their patients,” Montefiore wrote in a statement on their website.

The contrasting numbers – 18% versus 19.1% — cited by the union and Mount Sinai come from how they’re expressing the terms of the deal. The agreement would call for a 7% bump in the first year, 6% in the second year and 5% in the third. In total, that’s 18%, but after these terms are applied, nurses will technically make 19.1% more three years from now, due to the math associated with compounding percentages.

Mount Sinai also said it had canceled elective surgeries and procedures at the three impacted campuses. “We deeply apologize for any inconvenience to our patients,” the statement read.

In a statement from Mount Sinai, hospital officials called the nurses union “reckless,” and said they’d offered the same 19.1% percent raise as Montefiore. Ahead of the strike at its Harlem location, the hospital had begun transferring babies out of its neonatal intensive care units.

“Our first priority is the safety of our patients. We’re prepared to minimize disruption, and we encourage Mount Sinai nurses to continue providing the world-class care they’re known for, in spite of NYSNA’s strike,” the statement read.

Outside Montefiore Hospital, MTA bus drivers and passing cars honked in support of the striking nurses. Some people visiting patients there also expressed tentative support. Mili McCoy was in the lobby waiting to visit her 88-year-old father who recently had his leg amputated. She said she was nervous about what the strike might mean for his care, but said she agrees with what the nurses are asking for.

“Sometimes we show up and my dad isn’t in the condition we expect him to be. I think it’s because there aren’t enough people to come check on him,” she said, describing a recent visit where her father was covered in blood after his IV came unconnected. “You have to be able to come in here and give it your all. Some can’t. They’re tired. They’re short-tempered and I think a lot of it has to do with their short-staffed.”

“The nurses are so vital,” she added.

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