Nurses rally on the steps of City Hall demanding hospitals do more

NYSNA members are always ready to fight for safe staffing! On November 30, nurses and allies rallied on the steps of City Hall and testified at a City Council oversight hearing on the state of nursing. They shared experiences with the severe staffing crisis and demanded hospital executives implement strong retention policies, including maintaining their health benefits.

“Without the oversight and accountability of the state and the city elected officials, they will do the bare minimum. We need the elected officials to help us,” said NYSNA President Nancy Hagans. “They will staff at the bare minimum. They will reduce our health care to the bare minimum. They will treat nurses as expendable — not essential. In short, they will put profit over patients.”

Nurses also reminded the oversight committee and a representative of the Greater New York Hospital Association, who testified on behalf of NYC's richest hospital systems, that nurses are the ones caring for patients and demanding health equity–not hospital execs.

When Councilmember Sandy Nurse (D-Brooklyn) brought up executive pay, citing the millions of dollars in annual compensation hospital executives in the city make and asked why such compensation is necessary compared to nurses’ wages, Lorraine Ryan, a senior vice president with the Greater New York Hospital Association, appeared considerably perplexed:

“You can’t compare a CEO’s salary to a nurse’s salary, per se,” she said. “Hospital CEO compensation reflects the, um, the level of competition that the region bears. Um, it reflects the need for skills and leadership necessary to operate large, very complex organizations that are open 24-7, um, and that, um, are often the largest employer in the community. So, they’re, I’m just giving you, you know, background on understanding the context of your question. I can’t answer your question specifically.”

Mount Sinai Hospital emergency room nurse Lorena Vivas, RN testified saying, "Today, our hospital has over 800 vacancies for nursing positions. This is a problem that was created by greedy hospital administrators who  have perennially understaffed the hospital in order  to maximize profits. In 2020, our CEO took in more 'humble' pay of $7.3 million total compensation. Healthcare heroes saw colleagues die, get horribly sick, and develop PTSD.  We were given a fake silver dollar coin that says "COVID Hero." I keep it as a reminder of how little our lives are worth to corporations and how much they care only for themselves. I thought I signed up to work for a non-profit hospital. In actuality, they operate like a Fortune 500 company."

Nurses highlighted the exhausting working conditions that leave them burned out. "We have only two senior nurses working the night shift when we should at least have six. Both nurses are chronically ill due to the overwhelming workload," said Zulma Guiterrez, RN, a neurology intensive care unit nurse at Montefiore Medical Center. "The patient load can be tripled or even quadrupled at night. Our nurses are overworked and suffer from mental exhaustion. There's no time for planning. We must hit the floor running and the day is a spin. The factory-like pressure makes us feel that management doesn't care about the compassion that comes with nursing. I continue to work at Montefiore because I grew up in this neighborhood. I'm speaking up for the community, my patients, my colleagues and family members that still live in that neighborhood."

NYSNA members like Nicole Portilla, RN, of New York-Presbyterian Children’s Hospital bravely shared personal stories to demand hospital executives protect their healthcare benefits. "Cancer ended my chance at naturally expanding my family. But, my health insurance ensured that it didn’t end my life.  It gave me a path to get diagnosed and treated.  Our current coverage will pay for the medication to keep the cancer from recurring. As a nurse, a mother, and a cancer survivor, I urgently and respectfully ask for your help in protecting our healthcare so that we can continue to care for New Yorkers."

Many thanks to NYC Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and City Council Hospitals Committee Chair Mercedes Narcisse for listening to the nurses and taking steps to hold hospital executives accountable to address nurse understaffing. Photos from the rally and oversight hearing can be found on our Facebook page.