Nurses not only provide care at the bedside, we also advocate for our patients, communities and profession. We’ve done this via legislative outreach, public actions, negotiations with our employers, and rallies. For months, we have been raising our voices, highlighting the needs of healthcare professionals, the importance of safe staffing, and the correlation between improved working conditions and patient care. Now, we’re raising the alarm about decreases in private sector funding of healthcare in favor of corporate profits.
NYC private sector hospital employers — including some of the richest hospitals in NYC — are considering reductions and restrictions to healthcare benefits for nurses, many of whom got sick on the job during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nurses were hailed as heroes at the height of the pandemic and have harrowing stories of being on the frontlines, holding hands with countless patients as they died, making masks out of old scrubs, often working without insufficient staff or PPE.
Executives Receive Millions
Now, employer trustees from some of the same hospitals that paid their executives millions in bonuses from CARES Act money in 2020 are saying they need to reduce costs for healthcare benefits for nurses. They have money for their own bonuses, but not the frontline caregivers who make our healthcare system work. In Oct., employer trustees presented the union trustees of the NYSNA benefits fund (it’s a joint employer/union fund) a list of 35 reductions and restrictions to benefits and prescription coverage they’re considering.
But we have seen up close and personal:
- A nurse getting COVID at work during the first Omicron wave, and almost dying from cardiac complications.
- A nurse suffering from PTSD after working on a COVID unit, spending her days trying to help patients say goodbye to their loved ones over Zoom or FaceTime before they died.
- An oncology nurse who was told not to wear a mask in the early months of the pandemic, who contracted COVID along with her entire unit and who still suffers symptoms of Long COVID.
- A nurse who contracted COVID after going into the room of a patient who was coding to try to save their life, and then brought home COVID to her entire family.
- A nurse who is the mother of a young adult with a serious chronic illness who takes 24 medications a day to stay alive whose care would suffer from any changes in benefits.
- A nurse who got shingles because of the unbearable stress of working during the height of COVID; one of her jobs was to put toe tags on the bodies going to the morgue.
- A nurse who says the only way she could make peace with the trauma of the pandemic was to try to hold hands with as many patients as she possibly could as they died so that they didn’t die alone.
It doesn’t matter what part of the state one travels; many nurses can recount the intense trauma and stress of watching countless human beings die. Nurses are forever change — both by having put their lives at risk during a deadly pandemic, and by the indifference of hospital employers. Many are rightly angry, frustrated, and hurt that their employers are now refusing to commit to maintaining their benefits at current levels.
NYSNA has financial info from big hospital trustees like NewYork-Presbyterian and Mt. Sinai, showing that they are far from broke. Consequently, we will not allow them to shortchange nurses who continue to suffer health-related fallout from the pandemic.
Jacking Up Fees
Hospitals such as NewYork-Presbyterian (one of the fund trustees) have jacked up their fees for services, charging patients inflated prices, sometimes 300 percent or more than the Medicare rate for the same services. Relatedly, SEIU 32BJ’s benefit fund cut ties with NewYork-Presbyterian and made them out of network as a result of the hospital’s outrageously inflated costs.
This is a problem of the hospitals’ own making: they created conditions where nurses would inevitably get sick, then overcharged them for care. Now they want nurses to cover the shortfall instead of increasing their contributions to the benefit fund for the heroes who continually put their lives on the line in service of patients and communities. We will not allow this sleight of hand by greedy employers to go unnoticed or unchallenged.
This Will Not Go Unchallenged
For years, the hospitals enjoyed profits from the benefit funds. Now they are refusing to contribute to it. Employers need to hear that NYSNA members are ready to defend their healthcare benefits. Send a message to boss trustees today bit.ly/defendNYSNAhc!
NYSNA will soon launch a satirical ad campaign highlighting New York-Presbyterian’s outrageous CEO pay and its efforts to force healthcare professionals to shoulder the costs of rising costs and corporate bonuses. Stay tuned for updates on our other work to hold New York-Presbyterian, and health systems like them, accountable.