- Thousands of nurses are on strike in New York City, calling for safer staffing.
- Nurses told Insider that short staffing burdens them as providers, and harms patients.
- The strike means that some procedures are being rescheduled, and patients are being transferred to different hospitals.
When the pandemic hit, Philipp Carabuena says ten of his colleagues left within two months.
Carabuena works in the neurological intensive care unit at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. He has been a nurse for 13 years. Even before the pandemic, he said, there were not enough people on staff. Now, “we’ve had increased staffing shortages and people working 24-hour shifts, which is unsafe,” he told Insider.
Carabuena is one of more than 7,000 nurses on strike in New York City this week, with thousands of nurses at Mount Sinai and Montefiore Medical Center walking out Monday over demands for better and safer staffing.
“Nurses do not want to strike,” the New York State Nurses Association, the union representing workers, said in a statement. “Bosses have pushed us into strike action by refusing to seriously consider our proposals to deal with the desperate crisis of unsafe staffing that is harming our patients.”
The nurses across the two medical centers are among the thousands of workers pushing for better conditions — not just higher wages. Instead, like other health workers, nurses see filling staffing shortages and maintaining safe relationships between nurse and patient as the key to retention, their own safety and that of the patient. It comes as hospitals try to keep running, bringing in traditionally high-paid travel nurses to try to fill the gaps.
“It’s not about the money,” said Lisette Kimbere, an oncology nurse and member of the contracting team. “If we get better pay but the conditions don’t improve, we won’t stay. And that’s really the problem.”
For Linda Cesaria, a medical-surgical nurse for 13 years, the strike is a rollercoaster of “mixed emotions”. Cesaria works on a geriatric floor and cares for patients with conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. She said there has been about one nurse for every seven to eight patients — which is “very difficult, impossible and not feasible anymore.” In the intensive care unit, nurses are only supposed to have two patients, but Carabuena said they have been juggling three.
Having safer staffing conditions will mean Cesaria’s patients “receive the best quality of care that a nurse swears by.”
Roi Permaul, an ICU nurse, said it has been like a “revolving door” of staff coming and going. It weighs on nurses to see their colleagues overloaded and stressed, all while balancing the load on their own work, he said.
“We are concerned that the staffing conditions we have right now are not adequate to provide proper care for these patients,” Permaul said. “It causes them to get injured. It causes us to be overworked, burned out and simply leave the workforce.”
Moved operations and transferred patients
Because management knew a potential strike was coming, Mount Sinai began transferring infant patients to other hospitals and diverting ambulances. All elective surgeries and procedures at Montefiore are rescheduled, and appointments at their ambulatory sites postponed.
Patient impact is what is “most troubling to us,” Frances Cartwright, chief nursing officer at Mount Sinai, said in a video statement. The impact of the strikes means some patients may need to be referred or transferred, Cartwright said. According to CNN, the hospital also brings in “hundreds” of traveling nurses – experienced nurses who take temporary contracts with various hospitals across the country, often paid at a much higher rate than staff nurses.
“This is a sad day for New York City,” Montefiore Medical Center said in a statement, saying that “NYSNA’s leadership has decided to step away from the bedside of its patients.” Management has already offered a compound wage increase of 19.1% to the striking nurses, both Montefiore and Mount Sinai said.
“NYSNA continues its reckless behavior,” Mount Sinai said in a statement, also noting that nurses there had declined the 19.1% offer. “Our first priority is the safety of our patients. We are prepared to minimize disruption, and we encourage Mount Sinai nurses to continue to provide the world-class care they are known for, despite the NYSNA strike.”
The union encourages patients to still get medical help if they need itstrike or no strike.
Sara Lobman is a former and current patient at Mount Sinai. Lobman was in and out of the hospital in 2019, being treated for lymphoma, and while in remission, still has to come in every six months.
During Lobman’s treatment, “I never heard a nurse, no matter how busy, no matter how hairy, say a crossword puzzle to anyone.” Lobman, who works at an Ellio’s Pizza factory and is part of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM), vowed to join the nurses if and when they ever went on strike. She kept that promise on Monday.
The effect the strike will have on patients is “not so much as not having adequate staffing,” Lobman said. “It’s very easy to fix that problem given what they’re asking for.”
“I don’t expect this strike to last long, because they will feel it and it will hurt,” Carabuena said.