Nurses Demand CEO Darlene Stromstad Bring Back the Nurses, Recommit to Caring for Utica Community
Utica, NY — As a surge of COVID-19 patients is expected in the Mohawk Valley in late May to early June, 77 nurses were handed layoff notices at St Elizabeth’s. Nurses say Mohawk Valley Health System (MVHS) is shortsighted in laying off RNs and runs a serious risk of not be adequately prepared to meet the needs of patients. They say that the hospital should engage in training to enhance the critical care most needed to battle the virus.
“As a nurse and family member of a patient at MVHS, I’m concerned about how nurse staffing cuts are putting our patients at risk,” said Lily Werenczak, RN. “We all worked so hard over the last year to define our core values as a healthcare organization, and these cuts are a complete abandonment of our mission to provide high-quality care to our community.”
According to data from the NYS Department of Health,Oneida County averaged nearly 100 new cases per week in April, and there is no sign of a downward trend in COVID positive cases.
MVHS has failed to consider alternative measures that give them payroll savings and preserve the nurse workforce by keeping everyone employed. Unfortunately, MVHS's focus on short-term cost savings has made them unable to see the devastating effects of their decisions on Utica's health and economy, all during the worst global pandemic in 100 years.
In addition to nurse layoffs, MVHS has furloughed approximately 20% of their workforce, forcing them onto the state’s already overwhelmed unemployment system. At the same time, hospital administrators who are not responsible for patient care, have not been furloughed. MVHS announced slight pay and bonus cuts for Executives, which may be temporary. Temporary travel nurses who are hired through a staffing agency are still begin employed at St. Elizabeth’s.
“When I heard about the layoffs, I thought per diems would not be getting shifts, since we make more than the average nurse and only get called in after the full and part time nurses have been scheduled,” said Tosha Elseth, RN. “Suddenly I was getting called in every day, and I wondered how they could be laying off nurses when per diems and travelers are still being called in? I don’t want to take the place of someone who really should be there full-time.”
The day after layoff notices were sent, MVHS posted four new job openings for Registered Nurses on their website. These new openings are in addition to several nursing positions that have not been filled in recent months, and which have led to an increase in reports of unsafe staffing at St. Elizabeth’s.
Since 2019, nurses have filed more than 400 Protest of Assignment (POA) reports, indicating that accepting additional patients could compromise quality patient care. More recently, nurses have filed COVID POAs, which document lack of Personal Protective Equipment or other safety precautions that should be in place when caring for suspected COVID patients.
NYSNA nurses suspected that the Administration of MVHS was planning to downsize the frontline healthcare workforce as part of the plan to merge Faxton St. Luke’s and St. Elizabeth’s into a new downtown headquarters campus. They never imagined that deep and devastating staffing cuts would move ahead during a public health crisis the size of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The planned downtown hospital has been subsidized by New York taxpayers. MVHS was awarded large bonds for construction, including a $292 Million tax-exempt bond. More recently, MVHS received the first of several federal stimulus payments to support hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic, with likely millions more on the way. Nurses question how a hospital system that has gotten so much from the community could now turn its back on us.
Each year, nurses commemorate Nurses Week with celebrations of professional accomplishments, food, giveaways, and more. This year, Mohawk Valley Health System (MVHS) CEO Darlene Stromstad diverted food donations intended for nurses to office staff and served the nurses layoff notices instead. This year, nurses observed the first day of Nurses Week in a much more somber tone, rallying for their livelihoods and for the health of their community.
The New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) represents more than 42,000 members in New York State. We are New York’s largest union and professional association for registered nurses. For more information, please visit nysna.org.