Nurses picketed outside two major New York City hospitals for the third straight day Wednesday as their union and management from both hospitals resumed talks to reach a deal that would end the strike.
Since Monday, when the strike began, Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx and Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan have gone without a combined total of more than 7,000 union nurses, who voted two weeks ago to walk off the job to secure better wages, working conditions and staffing levels.
The stalemate between the New York State Nurses Association and management at the hospitals appeared to be most acutely felt at Mount Sinai, which cut off negotiations earlier this week.
But informal talks between Mount Sinai and the nurses union resumed late Tuesday night and were expected to continue as of Wednesday morning, sources with knowledge of the matter told the Daily News. Formal negotiations between the union and Montefiore went until 1 a.m. on Wednesday and resumed later in the day, at 11 a.m., sources said.
According to the union, the sticking point at Mount Sinai continues to be nurse-to-patient ratios. Staffing at Montefiore also continues to be an issue, as is enforcement of staffing levels there.
The bad blood between the union and hospital management extends beyond that, though — stemming back to staffing shortages during the darkest days of COVID-19.
“We were here taking care of the patients,” union President Nancy Hagans said Wednesday outside Montefiore. “We were the last to hold their hands. We were the last to FaceTime with their families so they could say goodbye. And today, they tell us our ratios are too rigid. Our patients deserve better. The patients in the Bronx deserve better.”
The rampup to the ongoing strikes at Montefiore and Mount Sinai began two weeks ago, when nurses delivered 10-day strike notices to eight hospitals in the five boroughs. Most of them — including New York-Presbyterian, Maimonides Medical Center, Richmond University Medical Center, BronxCare, Flushing Hospital and Mount Sinai’s Morningside and West facilities — have reached deals with the union.
Nurses at two other Brooklyn hospitals — Wyckoff Heights Medical Center and Brooklyn Hospital Center — also voted to authorize walkouts. Nurses at Wyckoff delivered a 12-day strike notice to management, which means they could walk out as early as next Tuesday. Management at the Brooklyn Hospital Center and the New York State Nurses Association have reached a tentative deal, staving off a strike threat there.
Mount Sinai contends that part of the staffing issue it faces stems from a shortage of nurses, whose worker rolls were depleted due to COVID. The Greater New York Hospital Association, which represents hospitals throughout the region, has also cited that as a factor.
“The entire world is experiencing a major nursing shortage,” said hospital association spokesman Brian Conway. “It is irresponsible to talk about hospital staffing issues without acknowledging the immense challenges hospitals face — especially a shortage of nurses — as they try to recruit and retain their nursing workforce.”
Montefiore decried the walkout there as “unnecessary” and stated it has offered to increase staffing in its emergency department by adding 115 registered nurses, as well as 34 nurses in other departments.
The hospital also said it’s committed to eliminating “all hallway patient placements except in those circumstances where the institution is mandated to do so” under state rules.
Nurses who work at Montefiore said Wednesday that’s not enough.
“All patients deserve VIP care, not just the administrators when they come with their family members,” Michelle Gonzalez, an intensive care unit nurse at Montefiore, said at a rally outside the hospital Wednesday. “There’s something very wrong with what is happening here. If VIP patients need VIP care, all patients need VIP care.
“Throughout this process, we have been called unprofessional. We have been called disgusting — when we are only fighting to end the practices that we find disgusting here — like patients getting cleaned in the middle of the hallways. That’s disgusting,” she continued. “We’re not disgusting for addressing the fact that it exists. What is disgusting is that patients have no dignity when they are in the hallway.”
While many patients support the strike, they also say the stalled contract talks are exacting a toll.
Leah Stern, 19, who travels daily from New Rochelle in Westchester County to Montefiore’s Moses campus in the Bronx for outpatient treatment, said far fewer nurses are there now to help her.
“The past few days have been a little crazy,” she said. “Usually there’s 14 nurses in my unit and now there’s three.”
Despite that, striking nurses like Gonzalez have received an outpouring of support from elected officials and labor leaders.
Both Mayor Adams and City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams (D-Queens) have been vocal in their backing of the striking nurses, and several Council members and state lawmakers were on hand at Wednesday’s rally outside Montefiore.
Mario Cilento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO, offered a simple message beside the striking workers outside Montefiore.
“You are not alone in this fight,” he said. “I swear to you we will be with you as long as it takes for you to get this done.”