An Exclusive Interview with Noelia Pena, A Nurse Who Voted Yes to Strike

Over 10,000 nurses from the New York City area, including Montefiore Medical Center, New York Presbyterian Hospital and Mount Sinai Hospital systems, were planning to strike on April 2nd over new contract negotiations, but the strike has now been postponed following “progress” in the negotiations process. The New York State Nurses Association is seeking safer staffing levels, helping nurses better care for their patients. According to the union, nurses are often responsible for up to 18 patients at a time, undermining their ability to properly care for their patients.

The New York Hospital Alliance, the multiemployer association representing the hospitals, has argued against mandatory staffing levels, suggesting they can actually harm patients. Learn more about this contentious debate and how both sides are responding.

The Argument Over Safe Staffing Levels

The New York State Nurses Association has been demanding safer staffing levels throughout the negotiations process, citing concerns over patient volume, workplace safety and staffing issues. When the New York Hospital Alliance refused to increase staffing levels, all three hospitals involved in the negotiations took a vote, with 97% of staff members voting “yes” for the strike.

We recently spoke to Noelia Peña, MSN, FNP-BC, a nurse at one of the hospitals involved in the negotiations. When asked about the strike, she said, “We decided to strike because we want safer patient ratios in order to provide better patient care. Due to patient volume, space and lack of staff, it’s unsafe to care for patients appropriately.”

When asked about what the New York State Nurses Association is hoping to get out of a potential strike, Noelia added, “We’re hoping to get more nurses hired, safer working environments and, of course, better care for our patients. We have a huge issue with hallway patients.” Peña was citing that fact that rising patient demand often results in patients standing around doorways and hallways blocking traffic, which creates unsafe working environments.

Peña went on to say that the New York Hospital Alliance “has been spreading bad information and propaganda not only to scare us, but to confuse the public.” The New York Hospital Alliance has argued that mandatory staffing levels would lower patient care and increase costs that could result in layoffs. Yet, numerous studies have shown that higher levels of experienced registered nurses lead to lower rates of adverse patient outcomes. The odds of patient death increases by 7% for each additional patient the nurse must take on at a time. Hospitals that staff 1:8 nurse-to-patient ratios experience five additional deaths per 1,000 patients than a hospital with a 1:4 nurse-to-patient ratio.

On the issue of cost, implementing safer staffing ratios can actually save hospitals money and boost overall revenue.  After safe staffing ratios were implemented in California, hospital income increased from $12.5 billion to more than $20.6 billion. Some hospital managers reported that these ratios made it easier to secure funding for their facilities, citing improved workplace safety and better patient outcomes. Adding more nurses to the team also reduces staff turnover, which can save hospitals money, considering the average cost to replace an RN ranges from $82,000 to $88,000.

Currently, 14 states have addressed staffing issues in hospitals with regulations, including CA, CT, IL, MA, MN, NV, NJ, NY, OH, OR, RI, TX, VT, and WA. Some states have set up nurse-driven staffing committees that create staffing schedules based on the needs of the patient population. Others have enforced mandatory nurse-to-patient ratios. And some states require facilities to disclose their staffing levels to the public, including New York. The New York State Nurses Association wants to take things a step further, enforcing mandatory staffing levels across the state.

A Letter of Support from the Massachusetts Nurses Association

Scrubs Magazine obtained a copy of the letter sent to the New York State Nurses Association.

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