The fight for safe nurse staffing continues amid the one-year anniversary of New York’s COVID-19 lockdown.
The New York State Nurses Association has organized several rallies over the last few months in hopes of passing a new safety bill. This legislation looks to ensure that hospitals and other medical centers are sufficiently staffed after many nurses say they did not have enough backup during the height of the pandemic to care for ill patients.
Many frontline workers believe that less deaths would have occurred if staffing levels were higher at the start of the pandemic.
On March 16, nurses assembled outside of two hospitals in Manhattan — NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and Mount Sinai Hospital — in order to urge Albany lawmakers to pass what many believe to be a life-saving bill.
Attendees waved flyers stating that patients deserve quality care.Photo by Dean Moses
These long-serving caregivers underscored the importance of safe staffing by letting loose loud rallying cries, stating that there is no excuse for hospitals to be understaffed and overwhelmed.
“This is not just about one hospital, although this is a very important hospital with high rates of COVID one year ago today. A year ago, this pandemic shocked all over the world, but one of the things that shocked us the most is that we did not have capacity or capability of saving the lives that we could have as nurses. Why is that? For 20 years we have been trying to get legislation in the state of New York so that every patient could have a nurse when the patient needed that nurse,” Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, RN President of the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), said. “There is not a shortage of nurses willing to work. There is a shortage of nurses that the hospitals are willing to hire. That is the problem!”
Sheridan-Gonzalez shared the plight that many nurses felt as hordes of patients entered the hospitals. Many retired, quit, or simply left the field since they were terrified of doing more harm than good.
“We took an oath to do no harm. Without having safe staffing, we are doing harm and that is unacceptable,” Sheridan-Gonzalez said, pushing for the Safe Staffing bill that has mandated nurse to patient ratios.
Nurses shared their stories from understaffed emergency rooms.Photo by Dean Moses
Nurses and advocates chanted, “Never again!” during Tuesday’s rally, where were joined by elected officials such as Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, City Council Member Carlina Rivera, and City Council Member Ben Kallos, among others.
According to the NYSNA, at Mount Sinai’s main campus and Sinai West, workers are continuing to report chronic short staffing and a lack of supplies, with managers rationing PPE. They also stated that NewYork-Presbyterian has increased bed capacity within the Critical Care Units, Step Down and Med Surg units to handle any increase in COVID-19 patients as well as continuing lucrative elective procedures.
Even so, these additional units come after the hospital lost 200 nursing positions, according to the union.
For nurses throughout New York, understaffing has been a systematic problem for many years, but like other disparities that have long existed, the pandemic has exacerbated this issue and staff workers are saying it was a major contributing factor in the many COVID-19 deaths.
A representative NY Presbyterian told amNewYork Metro, “We greatly value our skilled and dedicated nurses who continue to do so much for our patients and the community during this pandemic. Despite unprecedented challenges, we are working with our heroic clinical teams to continue to provide the safe and exceptional care that New York-Presbyterian is known for. Patient safety will remain our top priority.”
amNewYork Metro reached out to Mount Sinai Hospital for comment and is awaiting a response.