Listen to the nurses

Nurses form a line in front of Albany Medical Center.

On June 7, more than 200 nurses and community supporters lined New Scotland Avenue in front of the hospital to demand that Albany Med invest in the Capital Region’s health and commit to a safe reopening of elective surgeries.

Nurses expressed concern about how Albany Med cut nurses’ hours at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, made people use their benefit time while at home on call, and then took punitive financial action against nurses, withholding scheduled wage increases for the year.

Is this how you honor COVID heroes?

The austerity measures came as Albany Med received nearly $40 million from the CARES Act, and a $90 million advance from CMS. The administration claimed to save $1.4 million from their travel, entertainment and miscellaneous budget in the month of April alone—which would have paid for nurse salary increases twice over.

“We sacrificed so much during the height of the COVID pandemic, and in return, Albany Med punished us by withholding our annual wage increases,” said Jaimie Alaxanian, RN. “Some nurses can’t even afford health insurance.”

Hours cut, benefits taken

Alaxanian was shifted from her usual vascular unit to a COVID-19 unit to help during the surge, but she is concerned about who will replace her on the COVID unit when she moves back. Safe staffing on every unit has yet to be achieved, and many nurses are still working reduced hours.

Nurses’ hours were dramatically cut back when Albany Med temporarily halted elective surgeries. Instead of calling it a furlough, Albany Med created a “Stand-by Leave” pool and a “Labor Pool” of nurses who rarely worked, but yet unable to volunteer their skills to help with the COVID-19 surge downstate. Although Albany Med claimed that Labor Pool nurses were being paid during this time, they were actually deducting CLT/PL/PTO benefit time from nurses’ paychecks. This sleight of hand ultimately meant that 600 nurses lost a combined total of more than 11,000 hours of benefit time.

“During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was waiting by the phone most days, waiting to put my skills to use,” said Cheryl Ryan Niskayuna, RN, who has been a nurse for more than 20 years—15 at Albany Med. “I knew that it was wrong when Albany Med started deducting my benefit time, and I’m just glad that we have NYSNA to push back and win back that time and money that’s owed to us.”

Reopening and respecting nurses

Nurses expressed concern about the safety protocols lacking at Albany Med as the hospital reopens for surgeries. So far, nurses have been shut out of the planning process, despite their efforts to contribute their skills and experience.

COVID-19 will be here for the foreseeable future, and nurses around the state want hospitals to be more prepared for a second surge than they were for the first. Now is not the time to limit health resources and drive away nurses from the bedside.

Albany Med nurses are heading back to the bargaining table and continuing to advocate for themselves and their patients at the bedside.

Alaxanian concluded, “We’ve been waiting too long — for a fair contract, for adequate staffing, for adequate PPE, to be involved in decision-making at a very basic level. In order to make this a lifetime job as a nurse, and a place where we can all feel proud to work, we have to do something to make a change. Albany Med needs to start listening to its nurses!”

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