Solidarity at Vassar

VBMC RNs at the Candlelight Vigil (from left): Ayse Pere, Lana Cohen, Judy Prinzivalli (retired) and Maria Nagy.

NYSNA nurses and 1199SEIU colleagues at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie were out in force at two actions on September 13, the day their hospital held a groundbreaking ceremony for a $466 million expansion. Standing outside the main entrance, the workers were there to welcome hospital trustees, the press and the community with a simple and hard to miss message: safe staffing now!

Putting first things first

VBMC is investing hundreds of millions of dollars into capital improvements that will expand its capacity. The caregivers believe that providing state of the art facilities has the potential to be good for the community, but they are concerned that current staffing issues must be resolved first and there must be enough staff to meet the needs of a growing patient base. Without proper staffing, the expanded facility will put further strain on an already overtaxed workforce.

“Every day, we strive, but struggle, to provide excellent patient care,” said RN Ginny Malcuit, a 28-year veteran at the hospital. “VBMC has allowed staffing levels to be depleted to dangerous levels. We can’t continue like this. We need more help and the hospital must hire more people.”

For months, NYSNA and 1199SEIU members have been working in concert through meetings, rallies and protests to raise the issue of short staffing and the consequences for quality patient care. Staffing for both nurses and other support staff has reached such a crisis that mandated overtime was reintroduced earlier this year and the hospital implemented a “dependability” policy that punishes workers who call in sick.

Ron Breau, an 1199SEIU member and Vascular Cath Lab Tech, warned, “If the administration carries over current staffing practices that aren’t working now, there is going to be a problem.” Tracey Ames, a VBMC RN, added, “It is our hope that, as the medical center continues to expand services, management understands and consistently acts upon the relationship between increasing census and adequate staffing.”

Getting the message out

Following the groundbreaking, a mobile billboard with the safe staffing message traveled around town and up and down side streets. That evening, NYSNA nurses, 1199SEIU coworkers, community members and area clergy reconvened for a candlelight vigil to help shine further light on the issues. “We want to know there is a plan in place to ensure enough staff in every department, in every building, old and new, and that patients will no longer be waiting hours to get back their lab tests, get seen in the ER, and so on,” Mr. Breau told those gathered.

United front going forward

Ms. Malcuit implored hospital management to “listen to your nurses.” “We’re only asking that we be treated with the same dignity and respect we give our patients.”

“The whole effort of creating a new, beautiful building with state of the art equipment is worthless, unless you have the staff to provide the care and services. Without us, you just have a very expensive building. The administration needs to recognize how important safe staffing is and do something about it,” said Mr. Breau.

NYSNA and 1199SEIU are committed to work together until VBMC patients have the staff they need and deserve.

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