NYSNA Nurses Testify: Safe Staffing and Health Equity Now!

NYSNA members (above) made their voices heard at the NYS Department of Health’s (DOH) Public Health and Public Health Planning Committee hearing on January 27. When the meeting moved at the last minute from NYC to Albany, NYSNA Capital Region members mobilized quickly to deliver important testimony on behalf of Long Island members that raised concerns about Northwell Health’s project request involving expansion and reduction plans there. They asked the DOH to consider staffing and services in underserved communities when evaluating Northwell’s Certificate of Need application and to do more to ensure hospitals follow safe staffing standards.

Addressing the issues surrounding critical care capacity, Sandra Baldeo, RN, from Albany Medical Center spoke on behalf of Lydie Alexandre, RN, from Northwell/Long Island Jewish-Valley Stream (LIJ-Valley Stream):

“The project [Project # 212113-C] seeks to increase critical care bed capacity at North Shore University Hospital. This will be partially achieved by transferring 20 medical-surgical beds via an intra-system transfer from my facility in Valley Stream. We are pleased to hear that they are increasing staffing by 75 full time equivalents on the critical care team to accommodate this proposed growth. While insufficient, this is what we have been advocating for since landmark staffing legislation was passed in this state last year. But I am here today to point out that this project is exactly what we shouldn’t do in reaction to COVID. We must end the practice of robbing resources from our smaller community hospitals to pay for flagship expansion. Northwell can afford to do both.”

Regarding the new staffing law implementation, Jaimie Alaxanian, RN, spoke on behalf of Nancy Valdes, RN, from LIJ-Valley Stream:

“I’m so proud of the work my union brothers and sisters did on achieving a major legislative victory last year. But we are now waiting for the major provisions of that law to be implemented, and so far we are not seeing any evidence that the Department of Health is willing to do the work necessary to ensure that our employers comply with the law.”

Dawn Zipp, RN, NYSNA member at Bellevue Woman’s Center, spoke on behalf of Florise Hector, a resident of Valley Stream in Nassau County, regarding issues of health equity and community health:

“When Northwell Health decided to reduce the status of our facility to merely an extension of Long Island Jewish Medical Center, we were promised that the merger of our community’s hospital along with Forest Hills Hospital in Queens would be a miracle of improved care and efficiency. But we have not seen that happen, and I have many concerns about my community hospital’s capacity and staffing, which could lead to longer patients stays and longer wait times in the Emergency Department. This move to decrease capacity during an ongoing pandemic is poorly timed and could have a significant impact on the health of my community.”

Hector’s testimony continued: “You must implement The Health Equity Assessment Act (S.1451A / A.191A) that requires you to consider the impact of these projects on underserved communities, and also listen to the nurses here with me today and do everything you can to keep them safe as they provide care to the sickest, most vulnerable patients in my community.”

Member testimony also sent a strong message that it is unacceptable that the DOH has not enacted the safe staffing ICU ratios passed in 2021 legislation. Members urged the DOH to implement and enforce safe staffing standards and take a stronger role in oversight and enforcement in New York’s hospitals.

DOH Committee Chair Peter Robinson thanked NYSNA members for their work and for bringing these important issues to the council, saying: “We have seen in New York now the lessons of this pandemic and the fact that it has been very difficult for hospitals to surge and expand and meet the capacity. There are two reasons for that obviously: first and foremost, people and staffing — that I put at top of the list; but the other is the physical facilities are constrained, as well, and that’s because we’ve downsized our hospital capacity in the interest of cost efficiency. I think we need to re-look at that again.”

Jaimie Alaxanian, RN, a NYSNA member at Albany Medical Center, noted the testimony had a positive impact. “I felt as though our voices were being heard. It’s one thing to sit at a meeting and feel supported, but we need action and to see this (staffing) law go into effect and be implemented in hospitals in New York State.”

Thanks to Capital Region NYSNA members who turned out; and to Sandra Baldeo, RN; Jaimie Alaxanian, RN; and Dawn Zipp, RN, for delivering testimony for those who could not be there in person. It was a powerful demonstration of solidarity — NYSNA nurses and healthcare professionals, ready to show up for one another because issues that impact one of us impact us all.