Making good on their promise, Montefiore New Rochelle Hospital nurses belonging to the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) began a two-day strike at 7 a.m. today.
The strike is scheduled to last until 7 p.m. today, and will run from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. tomorrow. Further walkouts have not been announced.
The NYSNA members took the action “to stop Montefiore’s intimidation and silencing of their voices about patient care,” according to a press release.
The hospital and the union have been in contract negotiations for about two years.
The union filed an OSHA complaint on Nov. 27 detailing what it said are several health and safety violations.
Cited in the OSHA complaint are a lack of fit testing for respirators; lack of face protection when working with Covid patients; and failure to follow global standards of infection control by mixing Covid patients into the general population, thus exposing nurses and patients to unnecessary risk of virus transmission.
New Rochelle Hospital’s Emergency Department has just 15 beds, which NYSNA maintains leaves potential Covid patients in the waiting room, increasing risk of exposure.
“The hospital is failing to apply and enforce basic, globally accepted and CDC proposed measures, such as social distancing and limiting visitation during the pandemic,” the union said. “The hospital only has one isolation room, where Covid patients can be safely intubated. Patients are not being tested for Covid before moving to other units in the hospital.”
The OSHA complaint was filed after hours of interviews with nurses and review of official documentation of Covid health and safety conditions compiled in a NYSNA Patient Care Chronicle. That chronicle “documents repetitive and consistent nurse understaffing throughout the hospital, as well as inadequate Covid-19 safety protocols. Those conditions were exacerbated by the first Covid surge, when two frontline caregivers died from Covid-19,” the union said.
“NYSNA is striking because they want the power to dictate staffing assignments and hand out plum positions to their friends, while Montefiore believes the decisions on how to treat patients and make these assignments rests not with any one group alone, but with the entire team caring for the patient,” responded Montefiore Medicine Senior Vice President of Community Affairs Marcos Crespo.
Crespo said that, over the past 18 months, Montefiore has offered NYSNA “over 7% in wage increases,” medical expenses for retired nurses, tuition reimbursement of $7,500 per year, health insurance with no employee contributions, and funding for the union’s pension fund.
“To most this would seem like a good deal, even in the absence of the COVID-19 pandemic when hospitals and individuals are struggling financially,” he said.
“NYSNA is willfully misleading the public by suggesting that Montefiore New Rochelle is unprepared for the latest Covid-19 surge,” Crespo continued, “when the truth is, in compliance with the governor’s orders, MNR is stocked with 90 days of PPE for its employees. NYSNA is selfishly putting the community at risk and using Covid-19 as a political football.”
This morning, NYSNA issued another statement saying that the New Rochelle administration is “taking an irresponsible approach to prepare” for the planned strike by deciding “to close the emergency room and begin transporting critically ill patients out of the hospital.”
“We announced our intention to strike almost 10 days ago, and this is the best, safest plan Montefiore can come up for our community?” asked Kathy Santoiemma, a registered nurse and NYSNA leader at New Rochelle. “The number of patients – including possible Covid patients – has been growing steadily in our emergency department. People in medical-surgical and step-down units need close monitoring – transporting them is a risk. Where are they going to go? These decisions by hospital management have me extremely concerned.”
The union said that two patients were transferred out of the hospital over the past weekend, and that the emergency department has stopped accepting patients.
“All hell is breaking loose at the hospital, and nurses have not even gone out on strike yet,” Santoiemma said. “The ICU is full and traveler nurses are not coming in to help. Med-Surg nurses are taking on 15 patients, when they should have 5 or 6. Progressive care nurses are handling 6-7 patients, instead of 4. How can Montefiore treat patients this way?”
Montefiore’s Crespo said the hospital “will remain open but will enact contingency plans, including relocating patients to other facilities to ensure their safety,” during the work stoppage.
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