The Fight for Patient Safety Is Personal for North Country Nurses

From March through May 2023, North Country nurses from Adirondack Medical Center, Massena, Canton-Potsdam and Gouverneur hospitals fought and won new contracts that raised nurses’ wages, improved healthcare benefits, and — most importantly — ensured a healthier future for nurses and the North Country community.

Between 2020 and 2022 alone, the North Country region lost 420 nurses (12.4%), the biggest percentage loss of any region in the state. Nurses have used their contract fights to shine a light on this issue as well as on the cuts to essential healthcare services that hospital executives are making due to hospital mergers, consolidations and decisions based on profits rather than patient care.

Our Community, Our Hospital, Our Nurses

NYSNA nurses from Adirondack Medical Center successfully bargained their first contract since 2017 after working through the pandemic with a contract extension and little to no changes to wages and benefits in six years.

Adirondack nurses gathered community support and attended community events to call attention to their fight. During Saranac Lake’s Winter Carnival in February, nurses marched alongside their float while handing out candy and flyers that outlined their priorities and linked to a community petition. A local resident later wrote a heartfelt letter to the editor urging Saranac Lake residents to sign the petition.

Nurses ratified their contract in April after months of bargaining. Their organizing efforts led to a strong contract that included wage increases, new weekend differentials, updated health and safety language, and halved health insurance costs for nurses.

St. Lawrence Health nurses from Massena, Gouverneur and Canton-Potsdam hospitals held an informational picket outside of Massena Hospital on April 20, 2023. Members of the United Federation of Teachers and representatives of the Northeast Central Labor Council joined them.

United We Win, Divided We Beg

At the same time, nurses from three North Country hospitals that merged under Rochester Regional’s St. Lawrence Health Systems — Canton-Potsdam, Massena and Gouverneur — were coordinating contract negotiations for the first time to ensure the health system raised the standards for all North Country nurses. By organizing together, nurses across facilities found they faced similar issues, from staffing shortages to lagging wages and benefits that kept new nurses from staying and incentivized a revolving door of travel nurses.

“It’s demoralizing to have to train travel nurses who you know are making three times as much as you are, and you know they’re going to leave when their contract is up. I am choosing to stay because I am part of this community, I have a family here, my children are here. I want to stay to make Gouverneur Hospital the hospital this community and its nurses deserve,” said Jenelle Fuller, RN, of Gouverneur Hospital, to express her commitment to the contract fight.

Solidarity Was Strong

St. Lawrence nurses were also able to organize support from community members and local labor unions to amplify their message. Nurses put out a community petition that gathered almost 900 signatures and held a town hall to call attention to the care crisis in the North Country. They also launched billboards near each hospital demanding a fair contract and held an informational picket outside Massena hospital that over 100 nurses, community members, and labor allies from the United Federation of Teachers and Northeast Central Labor Council attended.

Their fight for a fair contract ended in victory on May 18 when St. Lawrence Health nurses ratified their contract unanimously. The contract included wage increases and a consistent wage scale across hospitals as well as improved and lower-cost health benefits through joining the NYSNA Benefits Fund.

“Thanks to the tireless efforts of nurses and the support of our community, we have ratified a strong contract with the wages and healthcare benefits that will allow my family and I to stay here so I can keep my community healthy while being able to provide for my own family,” said Casey Paquin, RN, of Massena Hospital.


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