Jonathan Custodio and Stephon Johnson, The City
This article was originally published on Jan 9 8:26pm EST by THE CITY
More than 7,000 nurses walked off the job and onto picket lines outside of four Montefiore Medical Center and Mt. Sinai Hospital locations in The Bronx and Manhattan on Monday morning, leaving the two medical giants canceling procedures and scrambling to provide services.
Dr. Noa Nessim, a family medicine physician in the third year of her residency at Montefiore’s Family Health Center, told THE CITY on Monday afternoon that licensed practical nurses from her clinic had been sent to fill in for those striking at Montefiore Hospital, impeding the center’s ability to provide patient care.
“They’re moving all of them into the hospital right now,” said Nessim, “which means we can’t do vaccines or draw blood or give medication or do EKGs in clinic either.”
Montefiore rescheduled all elective surgeries and procedures, and postponed all appointments at its outpatient locations, its website said on Monday. Montefiore spokesperson Loren Riegelhaupt said he could not offer specifics about the medical group’s staffing decisions.
While other nurses represented by the New York State Nurses Association agreed to 19.1% pay raises over three years last week ahead of Monday morning’s strike deadline, those striking at Montefiore and Sinai say they’re being shortchanged them, not only on pay, but on working conditions in ways that also endangered patients.
“I think most of us here, we can get beyond the pay aspect. I think that the biggest issue is staffing, and it’s been an issue for quite a few years now,” Crystal Cordasco, a pediatric registered nurse at Mt. Sinai, told THE CITY.
“That’s the biggest thing that we’re standing our ground on. I think people really saw how bad it was during COVID, and then it didn’t get any better.”
Cordasco recalled that “to everybody, the nurses were the heroes” during the worst days of the pandemic. But then, she said, “people forgot about us. It’s crazy. We were very appreciated, and now we’re back to nothing again. Our hard work is being undervalued.”
At Montefiore Medical Center, which includes the city’s busiest emergency departments, all elective surgeries have been postponed and appointments at all ambulatory facilities will be postponed, according to the medical center’s website.
Traveling nurses were brought in to the Montefiore Hospital on the Moses Campus in Norwood and Weiler and Hutchinson hospitals in Morris Park, according to multiple nurses and physicians who work in the system, and a NYSNA union representative. The medical staff also said that doctors were being pressed to fill in.
Nurses from a staffing agency are now attending to patients at Mt. Sinai Hospital in East Harlem, according to a technician at the strike in support of the NYSNA effort.
Elizabeth Dowling Steinke, a spokesperson for Mt. Sinai, said she could not confirm that nurses from staffing agencies had been brought in, but did confirm that traveling nurses were attending to patients.
“It pumps us up, and I love the support,” 37-year-old registered nurse Albania Gomera told THE CITY as EMS vans driving by honked their horns in support. “Remember when back in the COVID days, they used to clap for us?”
For Gomera, “it’s not just about getting paid,” she said. “We are valuable people, and we deserve respect from management by increasing staff to fill vacancies… We’re just asking for our fair share. The medical field is a business, and they have the money.”
‘A Sad Day’
Maintaining their energy levels with about two dozen pizzas, plus boxes of donuts and coffee, dozens of nurses and supporters at Montefiore Weiler Hospital on Monday afternoon held signs calling for better patient care and fair contracts while passing drivers honked their car horns in support.
“Some patients need to be repositioned, turned and repositioned every two hours but we don’t get that. We don’t get time to do that,” said 26-year-old nurse Nana M., who works at Weiler Hospital in Morris Park and asked to be identified only by her first name and last initial. She often treats patients in critical care while working in telemetry, where she said nurses were supposed to care for no more than four patients, but where she routinely had six.
Gov. Kathy Hochul on Sunday evening called for binding arbitration to reach a resolution, and said the state health department would continue to enforce the legal staffing requirement. Mayor Eric Adams said that the city was prepared for a strike, warning that “hospitals in certain areas may experience impacts to operations, including possible delayed or limited service.”
While city officials on Monday said that the strike hadn’t caused major impacts to medical care even as hospital diversions were in place, Mt. Sinai issued a statement blasting the nurses union for “its reckless behavior [in] rejecting Governor Hochul’s proposal for binding arbitration,” and said the strike “sadly is forcing nurses at The Mount Sinai Hospital to leave their patients’ bedsides.”
“They’re trying to use public empathy for the patients against us,” Aubryan Fenol, a registered nurse who’s worked at Sinai for 15 years, told THE CITY. “We’re asking them to give us a better contract.
On Monday, Riegelhaupt, the Montefiore spokesperson, responded to various questions by directing THE CITY to its website and a written statement from Sunday, saying, “We remain committed to seamless and compassionate care, recognizing that the union leadership’s decision will spark fear and uncertainty across our community. This is a sad day for New York City.”
Riegelhaupt did not specifically address questions seeking confirmation about the nurse vacancy at family health center and if it was occuring at other clinics.
Montefiore and NYSNA returned to the negotiating table Monday afternoon, a source familiar with the negotiations told THE CITY.
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