Healing power, people power

Our history of struggle for quality, public healthcare

Founded in 1969, HHC is the largest city healthcare system in the country, with 11 hospitals as well as nursing homes, diagnostic and treatment centers, and primary care clinics.

The HHC mission is noble: to treat every New Yorker regardless of ability to pay, and to provide “comprehensive health services of the highest quality in an atmosphere of humane care, dignity, and respect.” This is what nursing is all about. It’s a mission we share 100 percent.

The challenge is to turn purpose into reality. It’s a challenge NYSNA nurses rise to every day. We have a long history of fighting to make HHC keep its promise so that we can keep ours to the people of New York.

Healthcare is a matter of justice

As nurses, we’re focused on the healing power of our work. Nursing practice is about meeting the highest standards of care and advocating for patients so their interests remain at the forefront of clinical work.

As nurses, we’re also focused on social justice. Healthcare should be a human right for all, not the privilege of a few. As such, we have fought time and again to win the decent standards that reflect respect for patients and caregivers alike.

In the 1960s, nursing in city-run hospitals was grossly understaffed. By 1965, because of deplorable working conditions and nominal pay, the vacancy rate was 56 percent. There were instances in which a single nurse was expected to cover 12 units with 300 patients.
Changing conditions

After a decade of failed negotiations, nurses took the bold step on May 10, 1966 of submitting resignations en masse: They could not condone the unsafe conditions that were prevalent in city hospitals.

The result was progress – greatly improved staffing levels, better pay and greater respect on the job, nursing practice worthy of patients and true to our expertise and commitment to quality care.

In the 1970s, with the city in fiscal crisis, nurses took a stand again against unsafe hospital conditions, inadequate staffing, and chronic underfunding.

On the rampart again

And our fight continues. In today’s environment, it’s the drive to profit that’s undermining our public hospitals. Again, we’re fighting for safe staffing and respect for patients’ rights and nurses’ responsibilities and expertise.

We care for every New Yorker, no matter what. And we do so proudly. As Sandra Opdycke poignantly puts it in her history of New York City’s public hospitals (No one was turned away: The role of public hospitals in New York City since 1900), “No one is too dirty, too drugged, too drunken, or too different, none too poor, nor too hopeless.” Money, creed, color don’t matter. If a person needs care, we give it.

It’s a profound commitment to our city and its people that we make every day. It’s a principle we stand by and will keep fighting for because it’s what nursing practice is all about.

“On Oct. 17, we’ll be sending an important message to the city: We won’t be silent about the situation in public hospitals. This is a significant opportunity to take our fight forward, but we shouldn’t have any illusions. It’s going to take a lot of pressure to win.”

– Sean Petty, RN, Jacobi Hospital

“We’ve been incredibly short staffed in the ER. We made a lot of ruckus for a year and a half. We kept track of the staffing and patient numbers on each shift for months and worked our way up the chain until we got to the CEO of the hospital. Now we’re expecting
50 new hires.”

–Johnny Pearson, RN, Kings County Hospital

“When patients come into the ER, we don’t care who they are. Poor, a prisoner, it doesn’t matter. We advocate for patients so they get the best possible care. Nurses can be leaders at HHC. We are uniquely positioned to handle a broad range of care issues.”

– Seth Dressekie, RN, Woodhull Medical Center

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