NEW YORK NURSE: March 2011
by Erin Silk
Grievances, arbitrations, layoffs – like many NYSNA nurses – the RNs of Westchester Medical Center (WMC) are entrenched in a fight for a better contract and remedies for working conditions they feel have begun to affect patient care. And like many facilities, WMC’s management is looking for ways to cut costs through a reorganization of services.
The WMC nurses began negotiating a new contract in October. The already contentious contract negotiations have been further strained by management’s insistence on imposing schedule and unit changes.
The nurses of WMC feel their professional recommendations were disregarded and that the new scheduling model does not give appropriate consideration to case mix and acuity levels.
“These seemingly random assignments, viewed as a cost-saving measure by management, will, in the short term, adversely affect patient care and, in the long run, destroy employee morale,” said Sam Caquias, WMC bargaining unit president and NYSNA board member.
“The most recent consolidation instituted by management under the veil of ‘teamwork,’ is the creation of sub-committees to develop yet another third tier charge nurse – a position that was not negotiated by NYSNA,” said Caquias.
NYSNA member Mary Jeanne (Jeanne) Murphy is just one WMC nurse who has been adversely affected by management’s unit re-assignment and schedule changes.
Since 2004, Jeanne’s schedule on days at the hospital has allowed her to care for her severely disabled daughter, Sarah Jeanne. Jeanne has been able to devote her evenings to her daughter while still performing her duties as a nurse manager at WMC. Sarah Jeanne, who is non-verbal, spends days at a special school for the disabled where she requires constant supervision.
But, because of management’s reorganization plan, Jeanne’s vital schedule was interrupted with limited notice and no regard to her personal situation at home. Over the summer, Jeanne was notified that she was being reassigned to the evening shift indefinitely. In late December, she was told she would also be required to supervise the Behavioral Health Center. The added workload notwithstanding, this change might be little more than an inconvenience or readjustment for some, but for Jeanne, it means indefinite turmoil in the care of Sarah Jeanne.
Life for 10-year old Sarah Jeanne is experienced at the developmental level of a two-year-old child. Her complex medical history includes seizures, sleep disturbances, macrocephaly, and hypotonia – all which require the professional care provided by her mother. She is unable to fully support her 54 lb, 48-inch frame and cannot walk. She must be fed and monitored for choking, is unable to toilet herself, and must wear a diaper. Routine is extremely important and necessary for her to function at all. Part of that vital routine includes nightly observances for the life-threatening seizure activity that interrupts her sleep patterns. “I watch her for about 45 minutes after she falls asleep,” says Jeanne, “I figure once we’ve reached REM sleep, we’re in the clear.”
Jeanne, who is well-respected by peers and staff, has always tried to be accommodating to the needs of the hospital. When she was assigned to supervise the Behavioral Health Unit, in addition to her other duties, she believed hospital management when they told her the reassignment was temporary and would be reviewed after eight weeks. Now, several months later, Jeanne is the only nurse manager performing dual roles as nurse manager and off-shift supervisor – duties which she has now been told are permanent.
The RNs of WMC are a close family. And they support each other when staffing is tight or personal issues escalate to crisis. But with staff stretched to the breaking point, something has to give and it’s up to management to find a solution. Quality-of-life initiatives and flexible scheduling are paramount to future retention and recruitment of quality nurses. These issues affect the daily lives of good employees and they cannot be sacrificed to fix a bottom line.
Caquias asks WMC bargaining unit members to remain strong and have faith in their own abilities as nurses as they fight for professional recognition. “To be successful, management needs to stop trying to circumvent NYSNA officers and the negotiating team at WMC and instead, engage in respectful dialogue with us to show they are committed to meeting our professional, clinical needs,” said Caquias.