During the COVID-19 surge, Montefiore New Rochelle converted its Maternal Child Health Services (MCH) to serve COVID patients. As elective surgeries reopened and resumed practice, MCH acute services remained closed, leaving the community without these vital healthcare services—that’s until nurses spoke out and Montefiore announced that Maternal Child Health will reopen! That’s a win for the nurses and the New Rochelle Community they serve.
Montefiore first notified nurses that the mother-baby units would reopen in September, but then delayed reopening and refused to provide a date for reopening. Since closing the units, MCH nurses have been left to constantly float to different floors. Some RNs had no choice but to resign and seek RN work in their specialty elsewhere. So far, 16 MCH nurses have left New Rochelle, a very significant brain drain that must be addressed for the good of the community.
On October 6, nurses at Montefiore New Rochelle and elected officials held a press conference to demand answers from Montefiore for refusing to reopen the mother-baby units. Elected officials joined nurses in their call, including State Senator Shelley Mayer, Assemblyman Steve Otis, Westchester County Legislator Damon Maher, and New Rochelle Councilmember Martha Lopez-Hanratty.
“We have to tell Montefiore that every elected official, every voter, every nurse, and every citizen is trying to have a first-class city. Our community deserves a first-class hospital,” said Westchester Legislator Maher.
Nurses called attention to the lack of transparency between Montefiore, nurses and the community. For the last seven months, expecting families were confused about the closures, as they had to be transferred out of the hospital to deliver outside their communities. One mother even gave birth in the Emergency Department.
NYSNA member and Maternal Child Health nurse, Beverly Stewart, RN, spoke out. “The birth of a child is one of the most pivotal episodes in a family’s life and it should be honored. They should be able to receive the necessary care right here in their own community,” she said.
Divesting from local communities
Early during the pandemic, Montefiore received nearly $700 million in federal COVID funding to address cases in low-income and high-impact areas like Mount Vernon and New Rochelle, both hospitals bought by Montefiore Health System—the parent healthcare company comprised of 15 member hospitals and outpatient ambulatory sites.
Rather than use funds for these communities, Montefiore disinvested from Mount Vernon, a safety net hospital, and from New Rochelle, a community-based hospital that serves mostly low-income and immigrant patients.
Instead, Montefiore announced a $272 million expansion to its White Plains hospital, located in a well-to-do majority-white Westchester community.
“We all know about how inequalities in healthcare affect patient outcomes, but we see Montefiore spending millions on renovations in White Plains while threatening to close Mount Vernon hospital and shutting down our essential Maternal Child Health unit. We need Montefiore to invest in staffing, to invest in local nurses so they don’t feel like they have to leave their community,” said New Rochelle nurse Marcia Hayles, RN.
NYSNA nurses have filed a Request for Information demanding to know how Montefiore has spent the $39.6 million in federal bailout money that was earmarked for New Rochelle Hospital.
“We worked through COVID”
New Rochelle was the first COVID hot-spot in New York state and nurses there stepped up to the plate to protect the community. The community and Montefiore praised their nurses and frontline workers, who saved lives despite bare bones staffing conditions. After working on the frontlines, nurses are calling on Montefiore to act in good faith and reach a deal for a fair contract.
NYSNA Montefiore New Rochelle Chairperson Kathy Santoiemma, RN, said, “We rolled up our sleeves and worked through COVID because that’s what nurses do. Now, the only way management is thanking us is through billboards and advertising. We don’t think it’s fair. We want safe staffing ratios for our patients. We want retiree health. We want a fair contract.”
Nurses estimate that Montefiore spent at least $3.4 million on a four-month ad campaign to thank COVID nurse heroes. During the last round of negotiations, management said they must “use their resources wisely.” Nurses are insisting that Montefiore invest their resources in retaining nurses, improving staffing, and valuing the sacrifices of veteran healers, instead of on billboards that build their business, not improve conditions.
Victory builds momentum
After the day’s energetic action, nurses at Montefiore New Rochelle received word that the Mother-Baby units will reopen on November 9th! This is a victory for the Maternal Child Health nurses and the over 1,000 families served by New Rochelle’s Maternal Child Health units.
New Rochelle nurses intend to build on this victory, as they prepare to do whatever it takes to win a fair contract for nurses, keep them on the job and provide quality care for patients.