Unsafe working environments. Poor nurse to patient staffing ratios. Hospital overcrowding.

A looming nursing strike in four private hospitals across New York City looks like it’s going to take place based on the results of a recent vote held by the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) in an attempt to address these core issues affecting patient care and nurse safety.

Workers Unite Film Festival tweeted their support for the NYSNA on March 13:

workers unite tweeted support

Nurses Speak Out and Prepare to Strike to Improve Safety and Patient Conditions

On March 7, 2019, the president of the NYSNA, Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez spoke at a press conference held at the Stewart Hotel in Manhattan, New York, according to Barry Williams for the New York Daily News, and said the following:

“Year after year, protest after protest, these hospital administrators ignore us. What choice do we have? Our principle demand? Safe staffing ratios, a safe workplace, community involvement in best addressing the needs of our patients.”

She also announced that 10,000 nurses are prepared to strike at the following hospitals in a matter of weeks:

  1. Mount Sinai
  2. Mount Sinai West
  3. St. Luke’s NY Presbyterian-Columbia
  4. Montefiore Medical Center

Out of more than 9,000 nurses who cast their vote regarding the strike, 97 percent were in favor and expressed the nurses’ widespread dissatisfaction with working conditions while serving some of the highest-grossing hospitals within the city. The vote for the strike authorization came just after dozens of demonstrations were held on February 13 to uphold safe staffing ratios, better patient conditions, and fair nursing contracts.

If the NYSNA NYC nursing strike goes through, approximately 10,000 nurses will withhold labor in stark protest to the “grueling working conditions affecting the majority of nurses in the city, most of whom are women, many of whom are immigrants and women of color,” according to Left News outlet.

One nurse who spoke out on the issue, Nicolette Mabeza, works at a children’s hospital. She and her fellow nurses have recently taken care of multiple intubated children, who are often not even located next to each other. She had this to say according to the Gotham Gazette:

“Not only does it make you feel that you’re being a terrible nurse. You also wonder, why should patients come here if nurses can’t give the adequate care that they deserve?”

Staffing Shortages and Hospital Overcrowding are the Central Issues

Staffing problems are at the core of this looming nursing strike. Currently, the registered nurses working at these hospital systems are forced to do so under incredibly unsafe staffing ratios. Among other issues, the nurses are fighting in order to achieve:

  • Paid breaks
  • Wage increases to match inflation
  • Retiree healthcare benefits
  • Safe staffing ratios

One medical-surgical nurse might be assigned anywhere from six to eight patients. These numbers double when a fellow nurse goes on break due to the failing “buddy system” currently in place meant to cover care and allow for breaks. Nurses are subject to:

  • Being overworked
  • Unable to take breaks
  • High rates of on-the-job injury, assault, and harassment

Patients are also suffering under these unrealistic staffing ratios by being forced to wait longer for:

  • Imaging and testing
  • Pain relief
  • Diagnosis

Other safety issues arise as the patient populations are unfairly placed at a higher risk for:

  • Falls
  • Infection
  • In-patient mortality

A New York Nurse Writes About Her Work Experiences

Kyu Nam is a registered nurse who works in the state of New York. She describes the desperation experienced by herself and her nursing colleagues as they try to provide the best possible care and make it through each shift in spite of the physical and emotional duress caused by the unsafe conditions. Her voice expresses the unmet need to provide adequate support to fellow nurses and the patients they care for. According to Kyu Nam:

“The overwhelming demands of the job don’t give us much breathing room to jump in when someone else is in the weeds. It forces us to get tunnel-visioned. We all know teamwork is necessary, but oftentimes we come out looking more like lone wolves calling out into the wild: ‘Anybody out there? Can someone help me?’ The real beast ripping into our flesh and breaking our backs are the hospitals and healthcare system itself. I reach a point almost every shift where I tell myself, ‘This is insane. We need more support.’”

Hospital Executives Sent Out Emails in Response to Negotiations

What do the executives at the hospitals in question have to say in response? Emails have been sent out to employees expressing their view that safe staffing ratios would devastate the current “patient-first” staffing approach and that one-size-fits-all staffing models simply would not work.

Nurses demanding an improvement in conditions retaliated calling those comments corporate excuses and charged the executives with “inhuman hyper-exploitation of New York’s nurses” and argued that the stance from executives only “shows that nurses are the only ones truly protecting their own and their patients’ interests.”

Are Lucrative Hospitals Exploiting Nurses for Financial Gain?

What do the numbers tell us? For years, the hospital executives have raked in millions from the profitable industry that makes money from people being sick. In last year’s report published by Crain’s New York Business, it showed that Mt. Sinai, one of the hospitals in question, had an increase in operating profits by 28 percent when it reached $205.2 million in 2018.

Nurses are not only struggling against austerity measures, but also record number profit margins experienced by insurance companies and the healthcare industry moguls. As nurses fight to gain more control of their working conditions, the push for safe staffing ratios and the mobilization of nurses directly challenges the bosses of the hospital systems in question.

The four hospitals involved in the dispute are privately owned, thus the action by the nurses does not in any way violate New York’s infamous Taylor Law, which disallows strikes by public sector workers. However, speaking about that particular piece of legislation, the NYSNA covers both private and public sector nurses and it recently voted a few months back to repeal Section 210 of the Taylor Law and encouraged other unions, such as CUNY PSC, to do the same.

Nurses Striking for Better Patient Care Do So on Behalf of the Entire Community

Just as teachers who strike working conditions do so to change the landscape of learning conditions for students, the nurses who strike are serving the interest of patients’ healing environments. The struggle of these nurses is for the benefit of the entire community, including the working class and poor people who cannot afford quality care or private hospitals.

Last month, one of the nurses participating in the picket line put it like this:

“How are we expected to make our patients feel safe and secure in the delivery of our care, if at times we ourselves don’t feel safe in our practice?”

On Twitter, the NYSNA is encouraging New York registered nurses to participate in the upcoming rally on March 18th in Mt. Sinai:

NYC Nursing Strike Looms over unsafe staffing

Are you interested in working during the nursing strike? Give us a call or text us today at 208-378-1338 to discuss strike nursing positions as they become available.

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