NEW YORK – Negotiations to keep about 10,000 New York City nurses from walking off the job headed into a final weekend as some major hospitals were already preparing Friday for a potential strike by sending ambulances elsewhere and transferring some patients, including vulnerable newborns.
The walkout could start early Monday at several private hospitals, including two of the city's biggest: Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, each of which has more than 1,000 beds.
They and a handful of other hospitals are bargaining with nurses who want raises and an end to what they say are untenable staffing squeezes, nearly three years into the coronavirus pandemic.
“New York City hospitals have violated our trust through years of understaffing, and that understaffing has only gotten worse since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic,” nurses' union President Nancy Hagans said at a news briefing Friday. “It’s time they come to the table and deliver the safe staffing standards that nurses and our patients deserve.”
Mount Sinai's chief nursing officer, Fran Cartwright, acknowledged nurses are stretched thin. But she pointed to the pandemic's disruptive sweep through people's working lives, at bedsides and beyond.
“Our nurses are working with patients 24/7, so they’re feeling it, and I’m feeling it with them,” she said in an interview. “It takes years after a pandemic to add stability.”
After shouldering health risks and huge workloads at the peak of the virus crisis, the profession is facing burnout that has driven many nurses into other jobs, or at least away from full-time hospital work.
Nurses at a Massachusetts hospital went on strike for nearly 10 months ending last January, marking the longest nursing walkout in state history. Thousands of nurses at two California hospitals were on strike for a week in May.
Talks took an acrimonious turn at Mount Sinai, where the union — the New York State Nurses Association — said management had walked away from the bargaining table shortly after midnight and called off negotiations Friday.
“Shame on you, Mount Sinai,” Hagans said.
The hospital retorted with a statement accusing the union of being “reckless” and “jeopardizing patients’ care.”
Mount Sinai said it offered a three-year series of pay raises totaling 19%, matching what the union recently achieved in tentative contract agreements reached with some other hospitals.
Cartwright said the talks hit a roadblock when management tried to move on to staffing and the union still wanted to discuss salaries. She said management was ready to resume talks once the union was willing to address other issues.
Mount Sinai said it started canceling some elective surgeries, diverting most ambulances and transferring some patients — including newborns in intensive care — from its flagship hospital and two affiliates, Mount Sinai West and Mount Sinai Morningside. Each has about 500 beds.
Cartwright said the flagship was “heartbroken” about having to transfer patients, particularly the infants, but would ensure the right care for them and patients who remain.
Negotiations also continued at Montefiore and the roughly 850-bed BronxCare Health System, while Flushing Hospital Medical Center reached a tentative agreement with nurses Friday evening. Spokespeople for the union and for Flushing Hospital, a 300-bed facility in Queens, confirmed the deal. The union said it included boosts in staffing, plus the same raises — as do the other tentative contracts.
Spokespeople for Montefiore and BronxCare had no immediate comment Friday.
BronxCare said Thursday it was confident about eventually reaching an agreement, while Montefiore Senior Vice President Joe Solmonese said nurses were rejecting a “generous” offer. He said it mirrored raises the union had agreed to elsewhere, while also adding 78 more emergency room nurses and making other increases in pay, benefits and staffing.
On Dec. 30 — a day before their contracts expired — the nurses gave 10 days' notice of an intended strike. Such notice is legally required so hospitals have time to line up temporary replacements.
One big medical center, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, reached a tentative agreement with the union the next day. Maimonides and Richmond University medical centers struck tentative deals Wednesday. The union said Maimonides nurses voted Friday to ratify their deal, which Hagans called “the best contract that we have ever had.”
The nurses are pressing for commitments to what they consider gold-standard staffing levels, such as having at least one nurse for each of the sickest patients in intensive care, and one nurse to about four patients in a typical medical-surgical unit.
Meanwhile, negotiations also are ongoing with four Brooklyn private hospitals. Nurses there have yet to authorize a strike, though votes are in progress, Hagans said.