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Patients Left in Limbo as NYC Nurses Strike Stretches Into Second Day



What to Know

  • About 3,500 Montefiore nurses and 3,625 Mount Sinai nurses went on strike at 6 a.m. Monday, potentially disrupting healthcare for thousands of New Yorkers as contract talks stall
  • The hospitals had been getting ready for a walkout by transferring patients, diverting ambulances to other institutions, postponing non-emergency procedures and arranging to bring in temporary staffing
  • Gov. Kathy Hochul urged the union and the hospitals late Sunday to take their dispute to binding arbitration, but the Democrat cannot force either side into arbitration

The union representing thousands of striking nurses at two of New York City’s largest hospitals is expected to hold a press conference outside one of the facilities, the Bronx’s Montefiore Medical Center, later Tuesday as the demonstration over pay raises and staffing stretches into a second day.

More than 7,000 nurses at Montefiore and Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan walked off the job at 6 a.m. Monday after lengthy weekend negotiations over a new contract stalled. The hospitals had been preparing for the action by transferring patients, diverting ambulances and canceling or postponing non-emergency procedures as well as arranging temporary staffing, though disruptions around emergency room visits and childbirth are likely.

The New York State Nurses Association said in the lead-up to the strike — and after it started — that no one wanted to walk out, but claimed the privately owned, nonprofit hospitals had forced the action. Three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the union says understaffing remains a chronic problem and wages aren’t high enough to compensate.

Jed Basubas said he generally attends to eight to 10 patients at a time, twice the ideal number in the units where he works. Nurse practitioner Juliet Escalon said she sometimes skips bathroom breaks to attend to patients.

So does Ashleigh Woodside, who said her 12-hour operating-room shifts often stretch to 14 hours because short staffing forces her and others to work overtime.

“We love our job. We want to take care of our patients. But we just want to do it safely and in a humane way, where we feel appreciated,” Woodside said.


More than 7,000 nurses walked out after bargaining broke down early Monday. Melissa Russo reports.

The hospitals said they had offered the same raises — totaling 19% over three years — that the union had accepted at several other facilities where contract talks reached tentative agreements in recent days.

Mount Sinai’s administration said the union’s focus on nurse-to-patient ratios “ignores the progress we have made to attract and hire more new nurses, despite a global shortage of healthcare workers that is impacting hospitals across the country.”

The hospital called the union’s behavior “reckless,” while Montefiore, which said it added 170 nurses, said the strike was sparking “fear and uncertainty across our community.”

“In my opinion, this action was totally unnecessary,” Montefiore President Dr. Philip Ozuah told staffers in a memo Monday afternoon. Ozuah maintained that the two sides had been close to agreement on “a very generous offer.”

Union sources familiar with the negotiations said that nurses at Mount Sinai’s main campus want what their peers at Mount Sinai West already got in their deal, which includes a more generous range of “differential” bonus pay for more experienced nurses. Sources also said they are looking for a built-in arbitration mechanism that would settle staffing and work conditions disputes (such as alleged failure to give nurses breaks) as they come up.

The latter issue is something that Montefiore nurses are discussing with hospital management, and that Mount Sinai’s team is hoping to discuss on Tuesday — if the hospital and union meet.


Union officials say nurses are pushing the issue of staffing levels for patients’ sake, as well as their own. Escalon said she sometimes finds herself caring for twice as many people as standards call for, and that means skipping breaks.

“What we’re really fighting here for is patient safety,” she said. “How can I pay attention to your needs when I’m being called somewhere else with the rest of the patients?”

For some, it means they’re left in limbo.

Darcy Gervasio took medical leave from her job at a suburban college library, made child care and transportation arrangements, got tests and otherwise prepared for a gastrointestinal surgery that was scheduled Monday but now is postponed indefinitely, she said.

While the procedure is considered elective, Gervasio said it’s essential to control her Crohn’s disease.

“As a patient, of course, I am annoyed and inconvenienced,” she wrote in an email. But Gervasio, a union member herself, said she blames the hospital management, not the nurses.

“I am very disappointed in the administration for letting the nursing staffing crisis get out of hand in the first place — especially in the wake of the tremendous strain on nurses during the COVID pandemic,” Gervasio wrote.


Elected officials, including New York Attorney General Letitia James, said Mount Sinai had already ignored staffing guidelines — which the state was supposed to keep tabs on. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders also allied with the nurses, noting that if the hospitals “could afford to increase their assets by over $1 billion in 2021, they can afford to pay their nurses fair wages and treat them with dignity & respect.”

It was not immediately clear if both sides would return to the negotiating table on Tuesday, but the hospital’s lead negotiator said they hoped talks would resume then. Union reps said they usually get invited to talks on the morning of those discussions.

Montefiore and Mount Sinai are the last of a group of hospitals with nursing contracts that expired simultaneously. The union initially warned that it would strike at all of them at the same time, but the other hospitals reached agreements as the deadline approached. All include raises of 7%, 6%, and 5% over the next three years.

Associated Press writer Karen Matthews contributed to this report.

Source: NBC New York


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