Breaking: All eyes on crippling NYC nurses strike

By MDLinx staff | Fact-checked by MDLinx staff
Published January 9, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • More than 7,000 nurses at New York City’s Mount Sinai and Montefiore Medical Center hospitals walked off their jobs at four facilities on January 9, 2023.

  • The New York State Nurses Association rejected offers of pay hikes and proceeded with strikes at the hospitals to protest understaffing and conditions their union claimed were unsafe for both nurses and patients.

  • As the strike resulted in more than 9% of the city’s registered nurses leaving their jobs, the hospitals are hiring “traveling” nurses, sending patients to other hospitals, and postponing elective procedures as temporary measures.

When more than 7,000 nurses at two major New York City hospitals left their posts on Monday, January 9, 2023, it wasn’t about money.

Staffing shortages were to blame for the strike, sources say. The nurse-to-patient ratio was so extreme at these hospitals that it was leading to burnout and poor patient care.

Pay hike offer refused

According to a CNN Business report, the nurses, who work at Mount Sinai hospital on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and three Montefiore Medical Center facilities in the Bronx, refused offers of pay hikes on Sunday, January 8, due to the poor working conditions.[]

The nurses contend they’re working in unsafe conditions for insufficient pay—and understaffing is at the heart of the problem.

Montefiore neurology department nurse Dorren Chulon told CNN Business that the ratio in her hospital recently increased from one nurse for every four patients to one for every six, creating a potential safety problem in her department, where patients are often in a confused or altered mental state.

The Montefiore Medical Center said in a statement that it had offered the nurses a 19.1% salary increase—“the same offer agreed to at the wealthiest of our peer institutions”—along with a promise to create more than 170 new nursing positions—but the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), the union representing the nurses, still refused the offer.

Why was this offer turned down?

Related: How is the boom in traveling nurses affecting healthcare during the pandemic?

Unsafe conditions for nurses, patients

The NYSNA has agreed to these terms for other hospitals, but in the cases of Mount Sinai and the Montefiore locations, the union felt the nurses there were particularly overworked and faced burnout following 3 years of working during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a January 8 press call, NYSNA president Nancy Hagans, RN, BSN, CCRN, said Montefiore has 760 nursing vacancies, and “too often one nurse in the emergency department is responsible for 20 patients instead of the standard of three patients.”

That evening, New York Governor Kathy Hochul suggested that the hospitals and the NYSNA agree to binding arbitration to avoid the strike. Administration at both hospitals was agreeable, but the union was not.

“As nurses, our top concern is patient safety,” Hagans said in a statement. “Yet nurses at Montefiore have been forced to work without enough staff, stretched to our breaking point, sometimes with one nurse in the Emergency Department responsible for 20 patients. That's not safe for nurses or our patients.”

"Montefiore needs to come to the table with concrete proposals to address the understaffing crisis, including safe nurse-to-patient staffing ratios. Nurses will continue to bargain in good faith, and we hope Montefiore will do the same."

NYSNA president Nancy Hagans, RN, BSN, CCRN

Strike impact on NYC healthcare

The strikes at these two hospitals’ four locations are expected to have a significant impact on New York, as the city employs about 75,000 licensed registered nurses, 9.3% of whom are striking.

As hiring replacement nurses will be challenging, the hospitals are enacting the contingency plans they had in place since they were made aware of the planned strike in late 2022. They are transferring patients to other facilities, and plan to bring in temporary “traveling” nurses to fill in.

A Mount Sinai spokesperson told CNN Business the hospital had already hired “hundreds” of temp nurses, while redeploying some of its non-nursing personnel to provide additional help.

In a statement, Mount Sinai referred to the strike as “reckless behavior,” encouraging nurses to keep working and “continue providing the world-class care they’re known for, in spite of NYSNA’s strike.”

The Mount Sinai hospital started transferring infants from their neonatal ICU to other hospitals in the week prior to the strike, and both hospitals are taking steps to postpone some elective procedures.

These strikes are the latest in a series of labor actions involving nurses in the years since the onset of COVID-19. The US Labor Department found that four strikes reported in the first 11 months of 2022 involved nurses.

Read Next: Why the travel nurse shortage continues as wages decrease
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