A week before Christmas, NYC nurses had finally reached their breaking point with private hospital administrators.
Amid a marathon COVID-19 response, pandemic-driven worker shortages in hospital rooms, and terse contract negotiations with administrators, roughly 14,000 nurses in the private sector set the stage for what could be the nation’s biggest nursing strike on Jan. 9.
On Dec. 30, eight hospitals — New York-Presbyterian, Montefiore, Mount Sinai Hospital, Mount Sinai Morningside and West, Maimonides Medical Center, BronxCare Health System, Richmond University Medical Center and Flushing Hospital Medical Center — were put on notice that without new, fair contracts, nurses, long-fed up with their treatment and lack of resources, would walk out.
In the days following the notice, some hospitals like New York-Presbyterian worked quickly to avert a strike, reaching a deal with 4,000 New York State Nursing Association (NYSNA) nurses just before year’s end.
On Wednesday night, Maimonides and Richmond tentatively reached an agreement, which will benefit more than 2,000 nurses. The three contracts, and subsequent deals, require nurses to vote to officially ratify the deals.
Notably, two Bronx hospitals, Montefiore Medical Center and BronxCare have yet to make progress with NYSNA, and are at risk of leaving the state’s most health-needy borough without proper nursing infrastructure amid rising cases of COVID and influenza and already dire health outcomes.
One of the points of contention, according to sources involved with negotiations with Montefiore, has been the administration’s lack of planning regarding retention and hiring to level uneven staffing ratios.
“We’re planning to strike for our patients. … But instead of investing in our community, Montefiore has refused to do what it takes to hire and retain enough nurses,” said Michelle Gonzalez, a registered nurse at Montefiore. “Instead, Montefiore cut primary care services and is planning to shut down the Montefiore Nurse-Family Partnership, a lifeline for high risk pregnant mothers and their babies. Nurses are fighting to protect our patients — and we can’t do that without safe staffing.”
The other local holdout is BronxCare, formerly Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center, where negotiations have not been as contentious as Montefiore or Mount Sinai, but still remain unresolved.
BronxCare nurses told the Bronx Times this week that they are overwhelmed by understaffed wings and have been unable to handle increased volume due to a “tripledemic” of COVID, RSV and influenza raging in the city.
“My patients in the Bronx look like me, live in the same community I do, and most of them are like family. Some of them have been coming to the hospital so long that they have no other family and now we are their family,” said Flandersia Jones, a registered nurse at BronxCare. “Our patients deserve the best possible care regardless of their income or race. But nurses can only do so much when we are taking care of 10 or more patients at once. It’s not fair to our patients. And we won’t tolerate unsafe staffing anymore.”
The Bronx Times reached out to BronxCare for comment is awaiting response.
The Bronx is last in the state in health outcomes, but nurses had been sounding the alarm bells on how short-staffing — one nurse in the Montefiore Emergency Department said she’s responsible for as many as 20 patients — and lack of transparency on clinic relocations and closures of programs had further underserved Bronx patients.
Roughly 10,000 nurses remain in limbo as contract negotiations between the five remaining hospitals have yet to bear fruit. NYSNA, the union representing nurses, said that negotiation tactics have involved anti-union sentiment as well as warnings to nurses and staff to not talk to the media.
Tension between Montefiore administration and hospital nurses is nothing new, and negotiations so far have not progressed, with some nurses from the center skeptical of administrators meeting contract demands by Monday.
According to Joe Solmonese, Montefiore’s senior vice president, NYSNA refused to agree to Montefiore’s offer that included an 18% wage increase, fully funded health care for life, and a significant increase in registered nurses in the emergency departments, among other benefits.
“This equitable offer mirrors the tentative agreement NYSNA union leadership reached with New York Presbyterian, even as we continue to face significant financial challenges from COVID-19,” Solmonese said. “Montefiore lost nearly $600 million over the course of the pandemic. Last year alone, we lost $200 million. New York Presbyterian, on the other hand, posted net profits of roughly $200 million in 2022. Despite the financial challenges that we continue to face, we believe that our nurses’ work has equal value to that of their colleagues in neighboring systems.”
Montefiore Health System reported a $316.9 million net loss in 2021, compared to a $42.7 million loss in 2020, according to its financial report posted March 16,2022. But NYSNA isn’t convinced that Montefiore’s downturn in profits is pertinent to their ability to compensate nurses, especially given the high-salaries of Montefiore’s administration.
During a news briefing on Thursday, Hagans pointed to Montefiore’s high-earning administration — two out of the top five highest paid hospital executives in the state were from Montefiore in 2020 — with its CEO Phillip Ozuah carrying a $7.4 million salary, bonus and perks in 2020 as low-wage staff battled the pandemic.
“If Montefiore can afford to pay its executives so much, they can hardly cry broke when it comes to negotiating a fair contract with front line nurses,” said Hagans. “Nurses are the backbone of our hospitals and are fighting to protect Bronx patients.”
Hagans is encouraging Montefiore and BronxCare administrators to come to the negotiating table and meet similar staffing promises and provisions that were in New York-Presbyterian’s deal with its nurses.
Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes