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New York Nurses On Strike, Demands For Safer Staff/Patients Ratios, Pay Rise

More than 7,000 nurses at two New York City hospitals went on strike on Monday, saying their concerns around staffing issues had not been addressed by management.

Talks failed on Sunday night. At 6am on Monday, nurses went on strike at Mount Sinai medical center on the Upper East Side and Montefiore medical center in the Bronx.

The nurses, who are part of the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), say management has failed to fill critical vacancies and make pay competitive to attract new staff.

Unfilled positions have forced nurses to attend to an excessive number of patients at once, the strikers say, even for vulnerable patients who require one-to-one care.

On the Upper East Side, thousands of nurses walked the picket line, wearing red and waving signs bearing their demand for safer staff ratios.

Bianca Russo, 27 and a nurse in the Mount Sinai neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for almost five years, said nurses were often caring for three to four sick infants at a time, though NICU patients should be treated one-to-one.

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Nurses were left to change, feed and provide medical care for multiple infants at once, she said.

“We don’t have enough staff members to take care of one of the most vulnerable populations in this hospital,” Russo said, adding: “We’re in a really tight timeframe and it’s just not fair to the babies.”

Roxanna Garcia, 37 and an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse, works at Montefiore medical center but joined the Mount Sinai strike to show solidarity.

Holding a sign, Garcia said ICU staff often cared for three to four patients at once, compared with the one to two to whom they should be assigned.

Garcia said nurses regularly worked 12- or 13-hour shifts without a complete break, or even a break at all. “It’s terribly unsafe for the patients, terribly unsafe for the nurse,” she said.

Martin Speiser, from the Mount Sinai emergency department, wore a red hat and scrubs. He spoke about the toll that understaffing takes on hospital workers. “We’re exhausted,” he said. “We’re stressed and there’s been no end in sight. There’s been no light at the end of the tunnel for us.” Speiser said staff shortages caused longer wait times for patients in the emergency room. In turn, strained staff were forced to balance out care. “Medications fall behind, labs fall behind. I can’t talk to doctors as often as I need to. I can’t update patients and families. There’s not enough time,” he said.

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Michelle, a 56-year-old psychiatric nurse who did not want to give her full name, said she often cared for eight patients at a time. “What kind of quality care can I give you,” she asked, “as opposed to you being one of my five patients?”

Michelle said she and other nurses were not able to go to the bathroom regularly while supervising patients with mental health and medical needs. She asked: “Who wants to work like that?”

Hospital managers have criticized nurses for refusing an offer and accused workers of abandoning patients.

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In a statement to CNN, a Mount Sinai spokesperson, Lucia Lee, said: “NYSNA leadership walked out of negotiations shortly after 1am ET, refusing to accept the exact same 19.1% increased wage offer agreed to by eight other hospitals, including two other Mount Sinai Health System campuses, and disregarding the governor’s solution to avoid a strike.”

Citing the 19.1% increase, a statement from Montefiore medical center accused union leaders of walking “away from the bedsides of their patients”.

Nurses say the decision to strike came after Mount Sinai and Montefiore failed to take negotiations seriously.

“Their behavior at the negotiating table mimics the behavior they [show] us on the units every day,” said Matt Allen, 37, a labor and delivery nurse. “They’ve been dismissive. They’ve been disrespectful. They ignore us. “They’re blaming us for abandoning patients and being irresponsible. But the hospital’s been abandoning patients for the past several years when they refuse to give us adequate staffing.”

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