Day 3: Montefiore’s Bronx hospitals starting to feel effects of nursing strike

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Other unions flashed support at Montefiore’s Moses campus on Wednesday, Jan. 11, in support of the New York State Nurses Association in their efforts to secure a new contract.
Photo ET Rodriguez

For a third consecutive day, Montefiore has been short 3,500 nurses at their three Bronx locations, and for patients and employees who spoke with Bronx Times reporters Wednesday, those absences are starting to show.

Montefiore workers said that nursing assignments have been filled by unfamiliar and inexperienced staff workers, particularly in ICU and maternity units.

Patients like Donell Jones told the Bronx Times that a “simple” 10-to-15 minute appointment turned into an “hour-long mess” that ended in cancellation as workers were scrambling around. Others, in need of biopsies and other life-altering surgeries, have had procedures pushed off, and may need to have those services relocated, sources say.

When asked by the Bronx Times what short- and long-term measures are in place to handle the loss of personnel due to the strike, Montefiore declined to comment.

Ideally, both sides would like the nurses to return to the work force and fortify their patient care experiences. Wednesday afternoon ended with no agreement in sight, however.

Scabby the Union Rat made its first appearance in front of Montefiore’s East 210th Street Moses campus on Wednesday, Jan. 11. Photo ET Rodriguez

Montefiore is holding firm on its offer of a 19.1% wage increase compounded over three years and a plan to create more than 170 new nursing positions.

New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) President Nancy Hagans, who has been a major negotiating force for the union and nurses, told the Bronx Times that Montefiore’s management has failed its patients and its nurses by not agreeing to its safe-staffing demands, which predates the Jan. 9 strike.

In 2021, NYSNA called for specific staffing ratios in most hospital units, hoping to to alleviate onerous workloads for nurses that were exacerbated by ongoing COVID-19 responses across the city and state.

A major talking point in negotiations, according to NYSNA, is how Montefiore plans to implement and enforce staffing levels.

Since Monday when union nurses began picketing, a united force of Bronx workers — praised for their heroism during the pandemic in 2020 — have been unwilling to return to understaffed hospitals, while imploring Montefiore administrators to alleviate the burden on patients and nurses in the state’s unhealthiest borough.

Even during a working strike, on a cold gray day on Rochambeau Avenue at Montefiore’s Moses campus, Bronx nurses continued to serve others.

In 2021, NYSNA called for specific staffing ratios in most hospital units, hoping to to alleviate onerous workloads for nurses that were exacerbated by ongoing COVID-19 responses across the city and state. Photo ET Rodriguez

Nurses were taking off their gloves to warm the hands of others. A few were consoling others during more emotionally-charged portions of Wednesday’s strike. But nurses — or the ability to provide patient care — cannot be filled by travel nurses or upper-level management.

Mount Sinai and Montefiore have more than 1,200 nurse vacancies between them which striking nurses say is unsafe for both nurses and patients. Montefiore has more than 760 nursing vacancies alone, and nurses are often responsible for multiple patients at a given time, instead of a safe standard of three patients.

Xenia Greene, who works in Montefiore’s emergency department, said she still hasn’t seen an updated or improved offer to address staffing ratios and the enforcement of such. Greene told the Bronx Times, she’s been overwhelmed by as many as 10 patients at a time, which impacts of level of individualized care for individual patients.

“If you are asked to take care of five to ten children at the same time, who do you go to first?” said Greene. “You have someone with cancer and a fever who needs antibiotics in a hour. Another child who can’t breathe because he has asthma. A third child who has a burn badly and in pain … everyone needs your attention at the same time, and it’s impossible.”

Two-thirds of nurses, nationwide, say they are planning to leave the profession in the next two years, with staffing concerns leaving caregivers burnt out and at their breaking point. NYC nurses have said that striking was a last resort, but it’s one that has gained support internally, and from patients and politicos.

On Wednesday, Bronx lawmakers from the state Senate to City Council stood in solidarity with nurses, imploring Montefiore to act in good faith and strike a deal.

“No worker wants to go on strike. This is not out of fun, this is out necessity … and these particular workers are folks that are helping people, our Bronxites, be healthy every single day, ” said state Sen. Gustavo Rivera, who chairs the Senate Health Committee. “Since you are here, we are here with you.”

BronxCare was the other Bronx hospital — eight private hospitals in total — to be met with a Dec. 30 strike notice, before reaching a tentative agreement that will improve safe staffing levels and increase nursing wages by 7%, 6% and 5% for each year of a proposed three-year contract, while also preserving health care benefits.

BronxCare nurses ratified their deal on Tuesday.

According to NYSNA, nursing agreements reached with the other eight hospitals prior to Monday’s strike aim to improve patient care, staffing and wages for thousands of nurses while ensuring that the quality of hospital care is the same for upper-income Manhattan patients as it is for low-income Black and brown patients in the outer boroughs.

 — ET Rodriguez contributed to this report.

Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

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