Nurses at three hospital systems in New York City voted by an overwhelming margin of 97% to authorize a strike action. The vote, announced on March 7, is in response to months of inaction by hospitals on calls for improved staffing and other conditions in hospitals to ensure quality care for patients.
The strike will affect more than 10,000 nurses at the Mount Sinai, Montefiore, and Presbyterian hospital systems. The vote authorizing a strike does not mean that the nurses will strike. “It means that we now have the authority to call for one,” explained Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, President of the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA). Nurses can now give the hospitals 10 days’ notice of strike action at any time.
The run-up to the vote
The vote to strike follows on lack of any meaningful response by hospital management after the release of thousands of Protests of Assignment (POA), nurses testifying about staffing concerns, numerous negotiating sessions between the union and administration, and pickets by nurses across the city.
Reports were released in February of around 3,800 POA’s signed during 2018 by over 20,000 nurses from the above three hospital systems. POA forms are a legal and ethical requirement when nurses believe that patients are at risk because the responsibilities they’re required to assume, or the conditions in the workplace, are such that they are unable to provide quality nursing care.
The following are just two examples of conditions reported by nurses in POA’s:
- Health & Safety; Insufficient # of Staff & High Acuity: Pediatric ED understaffed such that there is more than a 3.5 to 6 hour wait time to see a provider, more than 20 patients holding in triage area, no RN screener, patients pulling out IV, and multiple attempts to bite, kick, scratch, and punch staff. Census 68, only 6 RNs.
- Insufficient # of Staff, High Acuity: Unit census was 21 at start of shift with 2 admissions to be received. Now census is 26 with an additional 2 patients en route. A total of 11 admissions will be received on this shift. No CNAs on floor. 1 ventilated patient, 2 with trach, 1 on restraints, 3 isolations, multiple incontinent patients, 3 pressure ulcers, 1 blood transfusion, all call bells ringing but nurses are busy with admissions, over 20 patients on fall risk.
Strike seen as last resort
The NYSNA emphasizes throughout that nurses didn’t want to strike but would if they had to for their patients, communities, and practice. “Nobody wins in a strike,” registered nurse Vontell Dozier told ABC news. “But sometimes you have to do what you have to do for the patient.”
After nurses had voted for the strike action, the NYC Hospital Alliance issued a press statement in which they accused the union leadership of political brinkmanship in trying to advance the political safe staffing agenda. Furthermore, they denied that staffing levels were unsafe.
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