- Thousands of nurses are on strike in New York City, calling for safer staffing.
- Nurses told Insider that short staffing weighs on them as providers, and hurts patients.
- The strike means some procedures are rescheduled, and patients transferred to different hospitals.
When the pandemic hit, Philipp Carabuena says ten of his coworkers left within two months.
Carabuena works in the neurological ICU at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. He’s been a nurse for 13 years. Even before the pandemic, he said, there weren’t enough people on staff. Now, “we’ve had increased staffing shortages and people doing 24-hour shifts, which is unsafe,” he told Insider.
Carabuena is one of the over 7,000 nurses out on the picket line in New York City this week, with thousands of nurses at Mount Sinai and Montefiore Medical Center walking out on Monday over demands for better and safer staffing.
Philipp Carabuena holds a sign referring to travel nurses.
“Nurses don’t want to strike,” the New York States Nurses Association, the union representing workers, said in a statement. “Bosses have pushed us to strike by refusing to seriously consider our proposals to address the desperate crisis of unsafe staffing that harms our patients.”
The nurses across the two medical centers are among the thousands of workers pushing for better conditions — not just higher pay. Instead, like other healthcare workers, the nurses see filling staffing shortages and maintaining safe nurse-to-patient ratios as key to retention, their own safety, and that of their patients. That comes as hospitals scramble to keep running, and bring in traditionally highly paid travel nurses to try and fill the holes.
“It’s not about the money,” Lisette Kimbere, an oncological nurse practitioner and member of the contract action team, said. “If we get paid better, but the conditions don’t improve, we won’t stay. And that is really the problem.”
For Linda Cesaria, a medical-surgical nurse for 13 years, the picket line is a rollercoaster of “mixed emotions.” Cesaria works on a geriatric floor, caring for patients with conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s. She said that there’s been about one nurse for every seven to eight patients — which is “very difficult, impossible, and not doable anymore.” In the ICU, nurses are supposed to have just two patients, but Carabuena said they’ve been juggling three.
Having safer staffing ratios would mean Cesaria’s patients “get the best quality care that a nurse takes an oath to do.”
Roi Permaul, an ICU nurse, said that it’s been like a “revolving door” of staffers coming and going. It weighs on nurses to see their coworkers overburdened and stressed, all while balancing the load of their own work, he said.
“We’re concerned that the staffing ratios that we have right now are not adequate to provide proper care for these patients,” Permaul said. “It’s leading to them getting harmed. It’s leading to us getting overworked, burnt out, and simply leaving the workforce.”
Rescheduled surgeries and transferred patients
Because management knew a potential strike was coming, Mount Sinai began transferring infant patients to other hospitals, and diverting away ambulances. All elective surgeries and procedures at Montefiore are being rescheduled, and appointments at their ambulatory locations postponed.
Patient impact is what’s “most distressful 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 out or transferred, Cartwright said. Per CNN, the hospital is also bringing in “hundreds” of travel nurses — experienced nurses who take up temporary contracts with different hospitals across the country, often paid at a far 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 walk away from the bedsides of their patients.” Management has already offered a 19.1% compounded wage increase 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 turned down the 19.1% offer. “Our first priority is the safety of our patients. We’re prepared to minimize disruption, and we encourage Mount Sinai nurses to continue providing the world-class care they’re known for, in spite of NYSNA’s strike.”
The union is urging patients to still get medical care if they need it, strike or no strike.
Scabby the rat at the nurses’ strike.
Sara Lobman is a past and present patient at Mount Sinai. Lobman was in and out of the hospital in 2019, getting 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 cross word to anyone.” Lobman, who works at a 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 impact the strike will have on patients is “not as 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 anticipate this strike will last long, because they will feel it and it will hurt,” Carabuena said.