Anti-union politicians and business interests are out to destroy our public hospitals. And they’ve got a strategy:
Hospital executives in Massena, near the Canadian border, are trying to fully privatize the town hospital. In the 1990s, Rudy Giuliani tried the same with HHC hospitals. He failed, but Mayor Bloomberg and HHC executives have been privatizing in bits and pieces – from services like dietary, laundry, and housekeeping to key treatments like dialysis. Privatizing is supposed to save money. But the real cost is to quality care. For-profit companies make dialysis treatments faster and patients get less attention. And nurses end up filling service gaps – picking up linens, getting food, and cleaning – taking time from patients and bedside care.
Executives at Westchester Medical Center laid off 140 RNs at the end of 2011. The next summer, they axed hundreds of aides, too, replacing them with workers from private, for-profit staffing agencies. Management even sunk so low as to advertise for RNs on Craigslist. Subcontracting also is supposed to be about savings, but it’s been a disaster. On Westchester Medical’s burn unit, skilled aides have been ditched for aides with no experience replacing a burn dressing. Patients deserve better.
3. CUT SERVICES AND CLOSE UNITS.
NYC officials shut down Labor and Delivery at HHC’s North Central Bronx Hospital in August, cutting 10 percent of the Bronx’s L&D capacity. Moms in labor now have to travel much further to give birth. Public hospitals bear the brunt even when private hospitals eliminate services. When they shut “unprofitable” units, the extra patients come to us – but we don’t get additional resources. That’s what happened in Harlem when Continuum closed pediatrics and the detox unit at St. Luke’s.
4. DESTROY STANDARDS.
A strong contract with good pay and benefits protects nurses and patients alike. It helps recruit and retain new, talented nurses and protects us from being worked to the bone. HHC nurses have gone five years without a raise. Last year, Albany passed the Tier 6 pension cut for new nurses. That’s bad news for the long-term health of our public hospitals.
5. WALL STREET.
We beat three attempts to let Wall Street take over New York hospitals last year. But Stephen Berger, an investment banker who has already made his mark closing hospitals, warned that they would be back again. Wall Street and private equity firms have taken over hospitals in other states. The results are disastrous. They cut RN staffing. They eliminate “unprofitable” services. Wait times skyrocket. Community hospitals close. People suffer.
Our public hospitals care for all New Yorkers. That’s a mission millions of people agree with. We can save our public hospitals by bringing together the communities and patients who rely on us. We will not see our mission destroyed.
Our fight back
Nurses have a strategy too. In September, 200 of us gathered to begin preparing our next steps at NYSNA’s first-ever public sector conference.
1. Using our votes.
NYSNA had never made an endorsement in a New York City mayoral election, until now. We sat out every election Bloomberg faced – even the last one, which he almost lost. This year, we endorsed candidates for mayor, comptroller, public advocate, and city council who support nurses and patients.
2. Documenting unsafe staffing.
At Westchester Medical Center, we documented over 3,000 separate Protests of Assignment in 2012. We used that documentation to win back 50 of the positions that executives had subcontracted out.
3. Building alliances, and a movement.
In Massena, we’re working with other unions and community groups to keep our community hospital public. In the Bronx, new moms, community leaders, and City Council members are coming together with NYSNA to continue challenging service cuts.