Janae Pierre: You're back with The Takeaway. I'm Janae Pierre sitting in the host chair for Melissa Harris-Perry.
At 6:00 AM this morning, thousands of nurses went on strike in New York City. How did this all begin? On December 30th, the New York State Nurses Association submitted 10-day strike notices after thousands of members voted to authorize a strike earlier that month. Since then, new deals were ratified at both Maimonides Medical Center and New York Presbyterian.
Major work went into reaching compromises over the weekend as tentative deals were reached on Friday and Saturday at Richmond University Medical Center, Bronx Care Health System, Flushing Hospital Medical Center, and the Brooklyn Hospital Center. On Sunday, tentative deals were reached at both Mount Sinai West and Mount Sinai Morningside. That still leaves more than 7,000 nurses at Mount Sinai Hospital and Montefiore Medical Center without new deals. In response, hospitals have scaled back services, canceled some elective surgeries, and are diverting the majority of ambulances to other hospitals.
I was joined earlier this morning by Nancy Hagans, President of the New York State Nurses Association, and a frontline nurse at Maimonides Medical Center. What are the demands of striking nurses?
Nancy Hagans: Our demand is very clear. Safe patient care. Those two hospital, Montefiore Medical Center and Mount Sinai, they have refused to listen to the nurses when the nurses come and say, "I need safe patient ratios, I need to be able to care for my patients in a safe manner, and I need to have proper wages." Other hospitals have step up and came to the table and negotiated a fair contract, and we are asking those two hospitals to do the same.
Janae Pierre: Tell us about the new deals that were made over the weekend. Has that influenced the strike happening today at all?
Nancy Hagans: As you know, every hospitals are operated differently with different member leaders. At the end of the day, when we started this campaign, when we started negotiating, our biggest concern were always the safety of our patient and how we provide care for our patients. The other tables, the other hospitals were able to come in and negotiate a fair contract that would address the staffing crisis that we have going on in New York for too long. Unfortunately, Montefiore Medical Center and Mount Sinai Hospital did not provide the same safe patient ratio that they needed to.
Janae Pierre: I'm sure as a nurse you've seen a lot, and as president of the New York State Nurses Association, I'm sure you're hearing a lot, but what are you seeing as the biggest issues in hospitals for nurses right now?
Nancy Hagans: Our biggest issues is the staffing, is working on the staff for so long, and it didn't happen now. It happened before the pandemic, and the pandemic made it more apparent because some nurses have left the profession. We have nurses who left because they were ill and have long COVID that they're not able to work, and we have nurses that are suffering from PTSD, and we have some nurses that pretty much said, "Enough is enough. I cannot continue to work in that condition." Our working condition has to improve. We have to go to work and provide safe patient care. We need to have safe patient nurse ratios. That is the number one priority for nurses.
Janae Pierre: How does that affect patients?
Nancy Hagans: Well, if you have to carry double the amount, you are going to do less for your patients. It's a reality. You cannot ask a med surg nurse who should care for five patients, and you've given that med surg nurse 12 patients, and you expect the nurse to deliver the same quality of care. As nurses, when we go to work, when we have to face that reality, mentally, it really is destruction to us because as a nurse, you take an oath to do proper care for your patients. When we're not able to deliver safe patient care, we go home, and it stays in our head, "I could have done this. What could I have done? I could have done this way, I could have done it that way." The time is not enough.
The 12 hours is not enough for one nurse to care for 10 patients. In the emergency room at Montefiore Medical Center, the nurses should carry three patients. There are time they are caring for 20 patients. How do we go in there and really take care of patients the way they deserve to be taken care of? New Yorkers deserve better than that. Regardless of their zip code, regardless of their immigration status, regardless of where they live, we need to be able to care for our patients the way they deserve to be taken care of.
Janae Pierre: Absolutely. What are some of the conditions higher up the chain that also impact the conditions nurses work in?
Nancy Hagans: During the pandemic, we did the best that we can, we saved New York, and when the pandemic is off, the hospital managements decided to freeze the positions. What does that mean? The nurses who left, they never replaced them, so we continue to work short, and the meanwhile, some of these upper management are making seven figures. They've given themselves bonuses and the back of the nurses.
Janae Pierre: As of Monday morning, more than 7,000 nurses are still on strike. What do you say to people who are concerned about patient safety during the strike?
Nancy Hagans: Well, what I would say to anyone, if you are ill, if you're not feeling well, if you are sick, please seek medical attention. Go to the hospital. What I'm saying is for the hospitals to come to the table and negotiate a fair contract. The sooner they negotiate the contract, the sooner the nurses will go back to work. It's really up to the bosses. I urge every New Yorker, everyone, if you are sick, if you're not feeling well, please seek medical advice, and you need to go to the hospital.
Janae Pierre: Are there other staff who can do what nurses do? What happens to patient care when thousands of nurses go on a strike like this?
Nancy Hagans: A 10-day notice was given to hospital management on December 30th. They were given enough time to make proper arrangement if they wanted the strike to happen in order for New Yorkers to be taken care of. Again, I will go back to the bosses. They're the one who created this situation. They're the one who created the staffing shortage. They're the one who created the strike. They're the one who asked for the strike because we sat there in good faith and wanted to negotiate a contract with them that would address the safe patient care.
Janae Pierre: We have to take a quick break here. We'll be right back with more on the New York City nurses strike in just a moment.
Janae Pierre: It's The Takeaway. I'm Janae Pierre in for Melissa Harris-Perry today, and we're back talking about the thousands of nurses on strike today in New York City. Nancy Hagans, President of the New York State Nurses Association and a frontline nurse at Maimonides Medical Center, joined me earlier today. Nancy, what terms have hospitals offered that don't meet the demands, and why are they not enough?
Nancy Hagans: The term, the two hospitals they have so far refused to address the staffing condition, the poor staffing condition in their hospitals. That is a major problem. The biggest concern for nurses is to be able to deliver safe patient care, to have proper patient-nurse ratio. Right now, there is a law for patient nurse ratio since 2021, and these hospitals have not been able to adhere to the safe staffing law. Mount Sinai has refused to talk about ratios for patient to nurse.
Janae Pierre: Let's talk about that a bit more. What has been the hospital's response for not meeting the New York State Nurses Association's demands?
Nancy Hagans: They're pretty much saying that they don't have nurses, they cannot hire nurses. I have to tell you, it's not a nursing shortage, they need to have it where they could attract more nurses and keep nurses at the bedside and retain the nurses. They are not retaining the nurses because they're not having the safe patient-nurse ratio.
Janae Pierre: Earlier in our conversation, you mentioned that this had been going on before the COVID Pandemic. I'm curious, are the issues that nurses are striking over unique to only New York City hospitals or are we seeing this around the country?
Nancy Hagans: I believe we're seeing this around the country. Remember, in New York City, we got hit the hardest when the pandemic-- We are the epicenter of the pandemic, and needless to say nurses saved New York. We saved New York. We've been telling management that we have a staffing issue for years now, and it got to the point now where our members are tired, mentally and physically. They no longer can work in such condition. We don't feel safe. We don't feel that we could deliver proper safe patient care in a situation like that.
Janae Pierre: How long do you see the strike going on?
Nancy Hagans: The strike is really up to the hospital management. It's up to the bosses. We are here. We are willing to negotiate right now. Just because you're on strike doesn't mean you stop negotiating, you stop bargaining for a fair contract. We are ready and available to bargain 24/7 for a fair contract and for our nurses to go back and care for patients the way the New Yorkers deserve to be taken care of.
Janae Pierre: Nancy Hagans, President of the New York State Nurses Association and a frontline nurse at Maimonides Medical Center. Thank you for joining us.
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