In early Jan., more than 7,000 nurses at Mount Sinai Medical Center and Montefiore Medical Center went on strike in response to low wages and stress resulting from the tripledemic. Protestors called for a labor contract requiring more nurses to attend to patients’ bedsides to be signed.
The nurses brought awareness to the low-staffing in hospitals and medical facilities issue, saying this was happening years before the pandemic began. Union leaders from the New York City Nurses Association have said some emergency room nurses have taken up to 20 patients at a time, and nurses personally said they’ve regularly had to manage three to four patients at a time.
Many striking nurses noted their concern was more towards the working environment rather than the wages, citing the lack of staffing as the main cause. Hundreds of unfilled positions at both Mount Sinai and Montefiore Medical heavily contributed to the problem, with Mount Sinai having over 500 unfilled positions with 3,600 working nurses and Montefiore having over 700 unfilled positions with 3,500 working nurses. Hospital administrators commonly blamed these unfilled positions on the national nurse shortage that’s been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, while union leaders blame it on the lack of effort in recruiting and retaining nurses.
Additionally, nurses have highlighted the lack of safe working conditions. A Montefiore neurology department nurse, named Doreen Chulon, said to the press that nurses in her department are forced to work without breaks or time to have a meal. She also said the ratio has gone from one nurse for every four patients to one nurse for every six; this affects neurology patient care due to the confused or altered mental state patients tend to be in.
Many nurses are facing a lot of burnout and stress, especially due to the last three years of the pandemic. The union has said the overly long hours and insurmountable workload have driven working and potential nurses away.
“Our first priority is the safety of our patients. We’re prepared to minimize disruption, and we encourage Mount Sinai nurses to continue providing the world-class care they’re known for, in spite of NYSNA’s strike,” Mount Sinai said in a statement. The Medical Centers criticized the union’s decision to go on strike, calling the New York State Nurses Association’s behavior “reckless.”
After three days of strenuous pickets and a contentious negotiation, the striking finally came to an end. The New York State Nurses Association said more than 3,500 nurses from Mount Sinai and around 3,600 nurses from Montefiore Medical reached a three-year contract agreement. Various other private hospitals reached deals with the union, including over a hundred new nursing positions and raises totaling 19% over the next three years.
Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, a Montefiore nurse of the negotiating committee, said the agreement was the first time the hospital had agreed to nurse-to-patient ratios in the emergency department. In addition, they “moved on every important issue” that the nurses on strike were emphasizing. New programs and new unspecified premiums have been implemented to help recruit and maintain nurses for Montefiore.
Nancy Hagans, the president of the New York State Nurses Association, said in a statement that the agreements are a “historic victory for New York City nurses and for nurses across the country.” She continued by saying, “NYSNA nurses have done the impossible, saving lives night and day, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and now we’ve again shown that nothing is impossible for nurse heroes.”
Montefiore said in a statement that it prioritized making sure nurses had “the best possible working environment, with significant wage and benefit enhancements” through the deal they reached with the union. They also wanted to minimize “disruption to patient care” by reaching an agreement with the union and nurses as soon as possible.
In Mount Sinai’s statement, they briefly said they were happy to have reached a tentative agreement and were glad the strike was finally over. They also didn’t reveal the details of the agreement. Instead, Mount Sinai commented that it was similar to those between the New York State Nurses Association and eight other New York City hospitals.