Lora Ribas hasn’t left the NICU at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York in four days. Her son, Logan, was born prematurely at 27 weeks and needs to stay on a ventilator because his lungs aren’t fully developed. He’s been in the NICU for three and a half months, but Ribas is afraid to leave his side now that thousands of Mount Sinai nurses are on strike. She said the hospital has called in temporary nurses, but they aren’t familiar with her son’s condition.
“It’s scary to think that I can’t even go to the bathroom without me being concerned,” she told CNN. She said the travel nurses are doing their best but they “don’t really know my son,” she explained. Many of them are still learning the unit or familiarizing themselves with new equipment.
Ribas said the hospital was understaffed before the strike, but the temporary nurses can’t give Logan the one-on-one care he needs while the demonstration continues. The problem is worse at night when staffing levels are even lower.
Mount Sinai moved most of the infants in the NICU to an ICU at another facility ahead of the strike, but the sickest children, including Logan, had to stay behind.
One nurse, who works in the department but wishes to remain anonymous, said moving critically ill newborns can be risky. “It’s a big journey for a baby who’s never been outside the hospital,” she told CNN. “It’s not anything that we want to happen. We want our babies to stay.”
The more complicated their condition, the harder they are to move. “You would need at least a doctor or nurse practitioner, a respiratory therapist if the patient is on respiratory support and a transport nurse to work the pumps and administer medicine if needed,” she said.
Ribas said Logan’s primary nurses are on strike, but they are heartbroken to be away from him. She said they are calling and texting her constantly to see how he is doing while they are away.
“He has really wonderful primary nurses,” she said. “They were in tears having to leave him because my baby suffered cardiac arrest two days before the strike happened, and so now I’m dealing with that plus the shortage of staff. Which is very scary.”
Hundreds of nurses at Mount Sinai made the difficult decision to step away from their patients and go on strike earlier this week. Melissa Perleoni, a pediatric nurse who helps administer chemotherapy to children with cancer, said it was tough to be away from her patients but striking is ultimately in their best interest.
“We love these patients more than anything,” she said. “And it breaks our heart – at least it breaks my heart – to be out here but I have to do this for the future of their care.”
Ribas is staying by her son’s side until his primary nurses come back to work. She said she hopes the hospital reaches an agreement with the nursing union soon, so she can get some rest without worrying about something happening to her son.
“The nurses are the heart of the NICU, and they do need to figure it out before it becomes a different situation – because every single minute, every hour, the babies are running a very, very high risk of even dying in here.”