NEW YORK (AP) – New York City’s nearly 10,000 nurses are in talks to be out of a job over the weekend as some major hospitals are already bracing for a possible strike by sending ambulances elsewhere and moving some patients, including vulnerable newborns. Getting ready for Friday.
The walkouts could begin Monday at several private hospitals, including the city’s two largest: Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, each with more than 1,000 beds.
They and a handful of other hospitals are negotiating deals with nurses who want pay increases and what they say is an end to staff inefficiency, nearly three years into the coronavirus pandemic.
“New York City’s hospitals have violated our trust through staffing shortages for years, and since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, that shortage has worsened,” Nancy Hagans, president of the nurses’ union, said at a news briefing Friday. It’s gotten worse.” “It’s time for them to come to the table and deliver the safe staffing standards that nurses and our patients deserve.”
Mount Sinai’s chief nursing officer, Fran Cartwright, acknowledges that nurses are stretched thin. But she pointed to the pandemic’s disruptive sweep of people’s working lives, at the bedside and beyond.
“Our nurses are working with patients 24/7, so they feel it, and I feel it with them,” she said in an interview. “It takes years to stabilize after a pandemic.”
After health risks and heavy workloads at the peak of the virus crisis, the profession is facing burnout that has driven many nurses into other jobs, or at least full-time hospital work.
Nurses at a Massachusetts hospital went on strike for nearly 10 months ending last January, the longest nursing walkout in the state’s history. Thousands of nurses at two California hospitals were on strike for a week in May.
Talks took an acrimonious turn at Mount Sinai, where the union – the New York State Nurses Association – said management walked away from the bargaining table shortly after midnight and called off talks on Friday.
Hagens said, “Shame on you, Mount Sinai.”
The hospital put out a statement accusing the union of being “reckless” and “putting patient care at risk”.
Mount Sinai said it offered a three-year series of pay increases that total 19%, which the union has recently secured in temporary contract agreements reached with some other hospitals.
Cartwright said negotiations hit a roadblock when management tried to go over staffing and the union still wanted to discuss pay. He said the management is ready to resume talks only when the union is ready to resolve other issues.
Mount Sinai said it has begun canceling some elective surgeries from its flagship hospital and two affiliates, Mount Sinai West and Mount Sinai Morningside, diverting most ambulances and transferring some patients, including newborns, to intensive care. Each has about 500 beds.
Cartwright said the chief was “heartbroken” about having to move patients, especially infants, but would make sure they and the patients who remained were properly cared for.
Talks also continued at Montefiore and the roughly 850-bed BronxCare Health System, while Flushing Hospital Medical Center reached a tentative agreement with nurses Friday evening. A spokeswoman for the union and a spokesperson for Flushing Hospital, a 300-bed facility in Queens, confirmed the deal but did not immediately release details.
Spokespeople for Montefiore and BronxCare had no immediate comment Friday.
Bronxcare said Thursday that it was confident of eventually reaching an agreement, while Montefiore senior vice president Joe Solmonij said the nurses were rejecting the “generous” offer. She said it mirrors what the union had agreed elsewhere to add 78 more emergency room nurses and make other increases in pay, benefits and staffing.
On 30 December – the day before their contracts were to expire – the nurses gave 10 days’ notice of an intended strike. Such notice is legally required so hospitals have time to come up with a temporary replacement.
A large medical center, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, reached a tentative agreement with the union the next day. Maimonides and Richmond University Medical Center made tentative deals on January 4.
But “it’s not just about compensation,” Hagans said at a briefing Thursday. “It’s about taking care of our patients. It’s about safety.
Nurses are pressing for commitments they consider gold-standard staffing levels, such as at least one nurse for every sickest patient in intensive care, and about four patients in a typical medical-surgical unit a nurse.
Meanwhile, talks are also going on with four private hospitals in Brooklyn. Hagans said the nurses have not yet authorized the strike, although the vote is ongoing.
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