Nurses, elected officials pressure Montefiore to address critical staffing conditions

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“Most people don’t know that nursing was my second career … but I fell in love with advocacy for profession which led to running for office.”
Photo Robbie Sequeira

Through rally cries of “shame on you” and “hire more nurses,” Bronx nurses are seeing red with Montefiore Medical Center administrators who they claim have not met critically unsafe staffing conditions.

The shortages, nurses say, have led to incidences of inadequate patient care within Montefiore’s Bronx-centric network. From stories of overcrowded emergency rooms with two or three nurses — attending to 70 or more patients — to claims of patients being treated in hallways, one Montefiore nurse told the Bronx Times they believe that hospital network’s administrators are more concerned with “maximizing profit, than patient care.”

Members of the New York State Nurses Association told The Bronx Times that understaffing has been an evergreen issue dating back to before the COVID-19 pandemic with administrators failing to address an estimated 390-plus vacancies in the Montefiore Moses, Montefiore Weiler and Montefiore Children’s Hospital locations.

Recently, NYSNA petitioned the state’s Department of Labor to investigate Montefiore for incidents such as a nurse recently working 24 hours straight. Montefiore officials told the Bronx Times that they have not received a notice from the Department of Labor.

“We have contacted the NYS Department of Labor because recently Montefiore has mandated several RNs [registered nurses] to work up to 12 additional hours of overtime after already having worked a 12 hour shift. So RNs were forced to work 24 hours straight,” Carl Ginsburg, spokesperson for NYSNA told the Bronx Times. “There is a mandatory overtime law for (registered nurses) in the state which prohibits employers from mandating overtime except in specific circumstances. We are hoping to hear back from NYS DOL soon to discuss these serious issues.”

According to NYSNA, Montefiore has 393 posted and vacant positions, and 261 more vacant positions that are not being recruited for at all. In the three hospitals’ Emergency Departments alone, there are 81 vacancies.

There are currently more than 9,300 openings for registered nurses in New York state, according to NYNSA.

Across the nation, nurses are at a premium. One of the leading causes for an exodus of experienced nurses is burnout which has been exacerbated by, and remains acute 20 months into, the pandemic.

About half of medical workers reported feeling burnout during 2020, according to a study from the American Medical Association. Almost half of ICU nurses said in another survey earlier this year that they were considering leaving the profession.

New York state officials hope a change to state law that requires every hospital in the state to establish minimum staffing standards for intensive and critical care units can help alleviate the dire need for staffing. Senate Bill 1168 requires certain facilities establish clinical staffing committees in an effort to improve worker and patient safety, and reduce workplace injuries. While the nurses acknowledge it will help with transparency with staffing levels, they say it won’t force hospitals to hire more nurses.

NYNSA officials don’t expect the change to be “enforceable” until 2023.

“We will have a committee with management where we sit down and look unit by unit and come up with a clinical staffing plan. Those plans won’t be enforceable under the law until 2023,” said Pat Kane, executive director of the New York State Nurses Association.

Montefiore pediatric nurses like Julian Grant said that their wings are short 19 registered nurses, and sometimes there is only one RN at 7 a.m., staffing the entire ER.

“It’s exhausting. We do this job because we love to help and care for our patients, but how can we with long hours, unmanageable staffing shortages and being ignored?” said Grant.

According to other nurses working at Bronx Montefiore locations, in adult emergency rooms nurses are being tasked with caring for 15-20 patients or even more at one time — a huge disparity from the customary 5-6 patient load per nurse.

A Montefiore spokesperson did not confirm to the Bronx Times how many active vacancies are in their network, but said they are “working every day to fill any vacancies and explore new recruitment and retention strategies.”

However, nurses rallying outside the Montefiore Moses location in the Gun Hill Road section of the Bronx on Thursday said that their concerns have been ignored by Montefiore administrators.

“Whether you find yourself as a patient in the Bronx or Manhattan, you deserve safe, quality care,” said NYSNA President Nancy Hagans. “The staffing crisis did not start yesterday, or even during the pandemic. But the ongoing pandemic, along with the shortsightedness of health care systems like Montefiore, has exacerbated the problem and led to this crisis we see today. Nurses are asking Montefiore to do more for nurses and patients.”

Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, a 38-year ER nurse at Montefiore says it’s a struggle for survival in the Bronx because of hospital practices that put profits over patients.

Bronx state Assemblywoman Karines Reyes, who is also registered nurse in the Oncology Department at Montefiore Einstein Hospital and was on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic said that staffing remains an issue.

“We are Montefiore. Montefiore is nothing without its nurses on,” the Progressive Reyes said. “We’ve been talking about staffing for forever.”

Hoping to address the state’s shortage of frontline workers, Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, last week, announced a program called the Nurses For Our Future Scholarship that will cover tuition for 1,000 new health care workers to get RNs at SUNY and CUNY.

The program comes in an effort to help address the shortage in health care and lack of workers in hospitals around the state.

“Just a year ago, we were celebrating our health care workers as the heroes they are, and the pandemic has shown us that we cannot afford a labor shortage in the health care industry,” Hochul said.

Reach Robbie Sequeira at rsequeira@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes. 

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