Nurses in the Big Apple are hitting the streets today to voice their frustration with the status quo. Some seven thousand providers walked off the job after contract negotiations with hospital management broke down. Like many nurses who have gone on strike over the last few years, the New York nurses are asking for more pay to help reverse the ongoing nurse shortage.
Representatives for the nursing union said the local healthcare system hasn’t been able to fill the gaps caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hospital officials reportedly offered a 19% pay increase, but the union said it isn’t enough to retain nurses.
Tentative deals were reached at several major NYC hospitals but talks at Mountain Sinai Hospital on the Upper East Side in Manhattan and the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx failed overnight.
“After bargaining late into the night at Montefiore and Mount Sinai Hospital yesterday, no tentative agreements were reached. Today, more than 7,000 nurses at two hospitals are on strike for fair contracts that improve patient care,” the New York State Nurses Association said in a Monday statement.
The nurses of Mount Sinai gathered outside the facility early Monday morning, filling up two city blocks. The crowd of demonstrators continued to grow to the point where they started spilling into the streets, sometimes blocking traffic.
A similar scene unfolded at Montefiore, where picketers chanted “Safe staffing saves lives,” with drivers honking their horns in support.
“We’ve been fighting for working under safer conditions,” said Warren Urquhart, a transplant nurse at Mount Sinai, on the picket line. “We do the best we can every day. There’s something wrong inside the hospital. That’s why we’re outside the hospital.”
Doreen Chulon, a nurse in the neurology department at Montefiore, said the staff shortages have gotten so bad nurses are being forced to work without breaks or meals.
“We’re burned out. We’re exhausted the next day,” she said, who’s worked at the hospital for 15 years. She said the nurse-patient ratio has increased from one nurse for every four patients to one for every six, which creates unsafe working conditions when providers are caring patients who are often confused or in altered mental states and at a high risk of falling.
Hospital leaders criticized the union for striking instead of accepting the proposed offer, which they described as similar to those accepted at other hospitals.
“NYSNA leadership walked out of negotiations shortly after 1 a.m. ET, refusing to accept the exact same 19.1% increased wage offer agreed to by eight other hospitals, including two other Mount Sinai Health System campuses, and disregarding the governor’s solution to avoid a strike,” said Lucia Lee, a spokesperson for Mount Sinai.
Officials at Montefiore said it was “a sad day for New York City.”
“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 … NYSNA’s leadership has decided to walk away from the bedsides of their patients,” the medical center said in a statement.
But the union insisted it was striking to improve patient care. NYSNA President Nancy Hagans said Montefiore alone had 760 nursing vacancies on the books and that “too often one nurse in the emergency department is responsible for 20 patients instead of the standard of three patients.”
Judy Gonzalez, an emergency room nurse and a member of the union negotiating team, said the number of unfilled positions has nearly doubled since the start of the pandemic.
“I don’t feel like I’m doing a service to my patients,” she said. “I have patients who grab my shirt, and I can’t help them because I have to do something else,” said Gonzalez, who has been at Montefiore for 40 years.
The hospitals have had to scale back their operations during the strike, but patients should still be able to access essential care. A spokesperson for Mount Sinai called the union “reckless” for walking off the job at such a critical time even though NYSNA gave the hospital a ten days’ notice of its intention to strike.
“The union is jeopardizing patients’ care, and it’s forcing valued Mount Sinai nurses to choose between their dedication to patient care and their own livelihoods,” the hospital said.