A Strong Voice in Albany

It was great seeing so many NYSNA members pack the halls of the New York Capitol on our March 5 Lobby Day. Almost 600 members met with nearly 150 state legislators to sound the alarm about our priorities and urge them to support nurses and patients in the state budget. 

More support for nurses, patients and healthcare is essential. When we look around the state, we see hospitals cut services and understaff nurses — putting quality care at risk. The emergency department at my hospital, Maimonides in Brooklyn, is overflowing with patients. Nurses are so understaffed that they have taken on up to 17 patients at a time. This is unacceptable, and I know we’re not alone.

Members in Long Island, the capital region and New York City are outraged by hospitals putting profits over patients and closing down maternal health units and outsourcing midwifery services. 

We also see a state budget with cuts to Medicaid and with no support for recruiting and retaining more nurses for safe patient care. It’s clear that Albany must do more.

Patients everywhere deserve quality care. They need more access to quality care and more nurses to care for them safely. That’s the goal of New York’s nurses, and it should be the goal of New York’s policymakers.

Lawmakers Get Onboard

Many legislators were on board. They lined up to help us amplify our demands at our press conference at the Capitol, where over 30 state lawmakers attended.

Our press conference helped draw attention to the need for safe staffing enforcement, a real plan to recruit and retain nurses, improvements to public sector Tier 6 pension benefits, strong nurse practice standards, fair funding for public and safety-net hospitals, and an end to hospital closures of maternity and other essential healthcare services.

Listen to Nurses

In my press conference remarks and conversations with legislators that day, I really emphasized the importance of holding hospitals accountable for safe staffing. They passed a hospital staffing committee law in 2021 for good reason — to keep nurses and patients safe and help prevent burnout that was causing nurses to leave the bedside. All hospitals are supposed to follow safe staffing standards now, but we know they’re not. Nurses have filed literally thousands of complaints, but we have seen very little enforcement action from the New York State Department of Health (DOH). The DOH needs to do its job and enforce the law.

Another major issue on my mind was fixing the nurse staffing crisis through education, loan forgiveness, recruitment and retention programs. The current budget includes no proposals to stabilize the nursing workforce. One major way to improve nurse retention in the public sector is to fix Tier 6! Fixing tier 6 of the New York state pension fund will help retain public health nurses and our public hospitals’ most experienced nurses, ensuring that they can retire with dignity. NYSNA is part of the union coalition that is calling for legislators to fix Tier 6, and we were happy to see the New York State AFL-CIO and many of our labor allies in the Capitol hammering home that message. 

We Are Watching

One of the key lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic was that we need to invest in healthcare. We know New York can and must do better when it comes to investing in healthcare and ensuring quality care for all. 

Our message is breaking through. When we tell our stories to state legislators, they listen. 

As this column goes to print, the budget is still being negotiated. Already, the state Senate’s budget proposal contains many of our priorities, including restoring cuts to Medicaid, defeating false solutions to the staffing crisis like the Nurse Licensure Compact, and improvements to Tier 6 public pension benefits. 

We know this New York state budget season and legislative session are not over yet. We are watching, but we are not just waiting to see what will happen. We are continuing to speak out about the issues that matter to nurses, healthcare professionals, our patients and our communities. And we are continuing to push for our short- and long-term policy priorities to be reflected in the final budget. 

NYSNA members are on the front lines of healthcare and must have a voice in the policies that impact our work, our lives and our patients’ lives. Stay tuned for more ways you can get involved in making positive policy change — whether up in Albany or close to home. 

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