TODAY: Public Hospital Nurses to Speak Out About Staffing Crisis at Annual Health+Hospitals/Harlem Board Meeting


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H+H CEO Dr. Katz Agrees Nurses Need Pay Equity with Private Sector to Stop Hemorrhage of Staff from Public Hospitals

New York, NY— Today, Tuesday, April 4 at 6 PM, public hospital nurses will speak out at an annual Board of Directors meeting for NYC’s Health+Hospitals System at Harlem Hospital. At a recent City Council hearing, the President of the Board and CEO of Health+Hospitals, Dr. Katz, acknowledged that low pay for public hospital nurses is causing high turnover and that expensive travel nurses now make up 25 percent of nursing staff, contributing to a budget shortfall. In his testimony, Dr. Katz said he supports safe staffing levels and acknowledged that H+H has fallen short.

At Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, Emergency Department nurses tracked staffing levels for a month and found that they are regularly understaffed 8 to 15 nurses out of 60, even with travel nurses making up one-third of nurses on each shift – meaning that there weren’t enough nurses to safely staff the emergency room.

Nurses will speak out at the Board of Directors meeting about how the short-staffing crisis has impacted their patients and their profession. They will be joined by elected and community allies before the hearing to share updates.

WHAT: Public Hospital Nurses Speak Out at NYC’s H+H annual Board of Directors Meeting
WHERE: Harlem Hospital, 506 Lenox Avenue, Dr. Herbert G. Cave Auditorium – 2nd Floor
WHEN: 6 PM TODAY, Tuesday, April 4, 2023

**Speak-out with NYC Council Labor Chair Carmen De La Rosa, Councilmember Shaun Abreu, WeAct for Environmental Justice, and other elected and community allies at 5:30 PM outside the hospital**

Musu King, RN in the Emergency Department Lincoln Hospital, said, “My number one concern is the safety of my patients. As the only Level 1 Trauma Center in the Bronx, we have ambulances bringing people in all day and night. A typical day is hectic, especially because we’re short staffed. In the critical care area of the Emergency Department, we should have 5 nurses, so each nurse can safely care for 2 critically ill patients. But usually each nurse has 6 or 7 patients instead. When patients get frustrated with long wait times, they take it out on us. We are trying to take care of everyone at the same time–and that's impossible.”

As reported in the New York Daily News, the city is spending approximately $18-$24 million a year on temporary nurses at just one hospital – Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx – because they can’t keep staff nurses at the bedside. That’s more than it would cost to bring nurse wages at that facility to parity with the private sector. In 2022, 183 nurses left Jacobi; that’s about 20 percent of all staff nurses at the hospital. Twenty-five percent of the nurses who left didn’t even make it a full year. Many went to work lucrative travel jobs or private sector jobs for higher wages. H+H estimated in 2021 that training a new nurse costs approximately $25,000, but some studies put the cost of replacing just one trained nurse at $100,000.

Sonia Lawrence, RN at Lincoln Hospital and President of NYSNA’s NYC Health+Hospitals/ Mayorals Executive Council, said, “So many of our experienced nurses are exhausted, burned out, and giving up. They retired or left for better pay and working conditions in the private sector. We have some units where the most senior nurse who is training and mentoring newer nurses has only one year of experience–nurses with minimal hands-on clinical training because they graduated during the COVID-19 pandemic are put in charge. We need a robust program to retain senior, experienced nurses in our public hospitals and Mayorals system. In order to get quality care, you need trained, experienced nurses at the bedside.”

At a City Council hearing Health + Hospitals President and CEO Dr. Mitchell Katz said that he agrees public hospital nurses need wages that are competitive with the private sector to stop unsustainable turnover and that relying on temporary nurses is putting the country’s largest public health system in the red.

Marie Harris, RN at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, said, “I’ve worked in the Pediatric Emergency Room since 2013. Parents are terrified when they have to bring their child into the emergency room. I want to be there to comfort them, but I have to focus on caring for the sickest kids first. We give up our bathroom breaks and our lunch breaks to make sure that kids get the care they need because we’re short staffed. Still, parents get frustrated by the long wait times and I barely have time to apologize to them before running to the next patient. Pay parity for public hospital nurses will resolve this staffing crisis and help us give our most vulnerable communities the care they need and deserve.”
Dr. Katz joined a growing list of supporters for pay parity that includes elected leaders such as NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Assembly Members Steven Raga, Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, and Phara Souffrant Forrest, City Council Member and Chair of Hospitals Committee Mercedes Narcisse, City Council Members Marjorie Velazquez, Shaun Abreu, Jim Gennaro, Justin Brannan, Carmen De La Rosa, and Lynn Schulman.

New York City’s public hospitals and mayoral agencies make up the largest public healthcare system in the country and provide care for 1.4 million New Yorkers each year – regardless of insurance or immigration status, or ability to pay. Nearly 9,000 Heath+Hospitals/Mayorals System nurses are in the midst of union contract negotiations.

Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine said: "Safe staffing is a health equity issue – unequal pay for nurses leads to dangerous understaffing and unequal care for our most vulnerable patients who rely on the city's public hospital system. We have seen too many nurses burn out in and leave the HH system," said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine. "I stand in solidarity with our public hospital nurses and urge the NYC Health + Hospitals Corporation to come to an agreement for a fair contract that guarantees safe staffing levels and provides the pay equity public hospital nurses deserve."

Deputy City Council Speaker Diana Ayala said: “When our loved ones fall ill, we rely on our nurses to help them recover. Our nurses are the pillars that keep our healthcare system afloat, and I stand with them in their quest for a fairer work environment.”

New York State Assembly Member Alex Bores said: "Nurses are the backbone of our entire healthcare system, and continue to fight the lasting effects of the pandemic and deliver quality care for all of us. We need to close the pay gap with private nurses, and make serious investments in our city’s health. I am proud to stand in solidarity with nearly 9,000 of our public health heroes as they fight for what they deserve. They take care of us, time to return the favor."

Public sector nurses are mobilizing on the heels of a strike victory for private sector nurses, who won groundbreaking contracts that improved staffing and included 19.9 percent pay increases. With new raises for private sector nurses, the pay disparity for newly graduated nurses in the public sector will be over $19,000 per year. NYC’s public health facilities serve mostly Black and brown and immigrant New Yorkers and are staffed by mostly Black and brown and immigrant nurses. Pay parity is an issue of health and racial equity for New York City.

NYC’s public hospital and mayoral agencies nurses have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a member survey, one out of every two H+H nurses have gotten infected with COVID at work. In the early months of the pandemic, the majority of NYSNA members who died of COVID-19 on the frontlines were from the public sector. Although H+H/ Mayorals members represent 35% of NYSNA’s NYC members, they accounted for 53% of the deaths.

The New York State Nurses Association represents more than 42,000 members in New York State. We are New York’s largest union and professional association for registered nurses. NYSNA is an affiliate of National Nurses United, AFL-CIO, the country's largest and fastest-growing union and professional association of registered nurses, with more than 225,000 members nationwide.

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The New York State Nurses Association is a union of 42,000 frontline nurses united together for strength at work, our practice, safe staffing, and healthcare for all. We are New York's largest union and professional association for registered nurses.