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'Out Of Patience:' New York City Nurses Take On Hospitals For Better Staffing

Published Sunday, April 7, 2019
by Peter Rugh/
'Out Of Patience:' New York City Nurses Take On Hospitals For Better Staffing

(NEW YORK CITY) – Question: How do you know when your Employees are unsatisfied?  Answer: When they vote by a 97% margin to authorize a strike.  And if you think these Workers are displeased, you should talk to their customers - or rather, their patients.

They complain of waiting in emergency rooms for hours, sometimes daysOf lying on stretchers in hallways among surplus medical supplies, their fellow ill and bloody infirm limping and coughing past themOf clicking their attendant button and waiting and wondering when someone will arrive to alleviate their suffering.

“You’re ‘husbanding care between your sickest patients and your most recent patients, who may come in with chest pain or shortness of breath,’” said Jonathan Hunter, a 12-year Emergency Room Veteran at Mount Sinai-St. Luke’s Hospital in Morningside Heights.

When he arrives for his shift in the morning, he often finds 20 patients who have been in the ER for half a day, sometimes as long as three days, and are still waiting to be transferred to beds upstairs.

“Conditions ‘have never been worse,’” he said. “It’s ‘extremely dangerous.’”

Hunter is among more than 10,000 Members of the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) at the city’s three major private hospital systems: New York-Presbyterian, Mount Sinai and Montefiore - who’ve been working without a contract since December.

On March 6th, the Union voted overwhelmingly to walk off the job.

It was almost unanimous: 8,533 to 230.

Twelve days later, they gave the New York City Hospital Alliance, which represents the three hospital chains at the bargaining table, notice of an impending Strike.

The walkout, originally slated for April 2nd, was suspended after the Alliance indicated it was prepared to make concessions on NYSNA’s key demands, which revolve around patient care.

The progress in the contract battle highlights the power Nurses have by virtue of where they stand in a medical field that has become increasingly corporatized and consolidated.

While the institutions they work for began as humble philanthropic endeavors to meet the needs of the city’s growing population in the 19th century - or, in the case of New York-Presbyterian, in the 18th Century - they have evolved into hulking behemoths in a profit-driven medical landscape and they’ve gobbled up smaller, cash-strapped community hospitals and have left vast areas of the city with limited medical options.

Some 20 hospitals have shut their doors in New York over the last two decades, including Cobble Hill’s Long Island College Hospital and St. Vincent’s in the West Village.

Both hospitals have since been converted into luxury condominiums.

One apartment where St. Vincent’s, a hub for HIV/AIDS care and research, once stood sold for $40 million to an anonymous buyer.

There are now only two major medical centers serving the 300,000-plus people who live below 23rd Street in Manhattan: Lower Manhattan Hospital, run by New York-Presbyterian, and Mount Sinai’s Beth Israel, which is downsizing.

The consolidation of care in New York is part of a national trend that has made it easier for large hospital networks to bargain with insurance companies, but has reduced quality of care while raising costs for patients.

“We’re ‘just being gouged’ by hospitals,” said Timothy Faust, Author of the forthcoming Health Justice Now: Single Payer and What Comes Next. “They have ‘monopolies.’  They have ‘pedigrees.’  ‘And there’s nobody really big enough to begin negotiating against them.’  The ‘average insurer is too small to bring down prices.’  ‘There’s no real counterweight to escalating costs, and they rise much faster than the rate of inflation.’”

Consolidation has also meant more patients and fewer Nurses to treat them.

Medical Staff are expected to do more than ever and to do it quicker.

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