NEW YORK – A nursing strike that has disrupted patient care at two of New York City's largest hospitals entered its second day Tuesday, with a union official saying progress was being made toward a possible settlement at one of the institutions.
The two hospitals, Montefiore Medical Center and Mount Sinai Hospital, were postponing nonemergency surgeries, diverting ambulances to other medical centers, pulling in temporary staffers and assigning administrators with nursing backgrounds to work in wards in order to cope with the walkout of as many as 7,100 nurses.
Progress was being made toward a settlement at Montefiore, Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, a union official and a nurse at the Bronx hospital system, said Tuesday.
On the picket line outside, nurses said they had to strike because chronic understaffing leaves them caring for too many patients.
“We’re tired now — overwhelmed. Nurses are burned out,” said Saffie Sesay, an emergency room nurse at the hospital. “It’s just getting worse.”
Meanwhile, as of midday, negotiations hadn't yet resumed at Mount Sinai Hospital, on Manhattan's east side. Hospital spokesperson Lucia Lee expressed hope that talks could soon resume with the union, the New York State Nurses Association.
“The impact is being felt,” she said of the walkout.
Montefiore and Mount Sinai are the last of a group of hospitals with nursing contracts that expired simultaneously. The union initially warned that it would strike at all of them at the same time, but the other hospitals reached agreements as a Monday strike deadline approached. All include raises of 7%, 6%, and 5%, respectively, over the next three years.
Nurses on the picket lines stressed that staffing levels are a bigger issue than pay. New York City's nurses were hailed as heroes in the spring of 2020 when the city was an epicenter of deaths from COvID-19. Now, they say they are being burned out by poor staffing levels that have been a problem for years.
“Remember, even prior to (the) pandemic we’re already short of staff,” said Mount Sinai nurse Nagie Pamphil. She said nurses in her unit are now expected to care for twice as many patients as they can safely handle.
“That’s impossible,” she said.
Montefiore said it had agreed to add 170 more nurses. Mount Sinai’s administration said the union’s focus on nurse-to-patient ratios “ignores the progress we have made to attract and hire more new nurses, despite a global shortage of healthcare workers that is impacting hospitals across the country.”
One relative of a Montefiore patient said the staffing Tuesday seemed somewhat thin.
“It felt like there wasn’t enough people” working, said Shivie Tahal, whose daughter had a longer wait than usual for an appointment. He said the waiting area appeared fuller.
Tahal's wife is a nurse at another hospital but isn’t on strike. He hoped that the dispute “works out for the best for both parties — the patients and the nurses.”
Barbara Roman said her 10-year-old daughter was admitted Monday afternoon with respiratory problems. She said there seemed to be enough people to attend to her child.
“If there’s a little less staff on the floor, it doesn’t matter as long as she’s getting the care she needs,” Roman said, adding that her daughter did.
Associated Press writer Bobby Caina Calvan contributed to this report.