Nurses at Montefiore Medical Center received a 19 percent raise after a three-day strike that ended in the early morning hours of Jan. 12.
While higher wages were a welcome outcome, it wasn’t the biggest accomplishment the New York State Nurses Association pulled off for the more than 3,500 nurses.
This was about low nurse-to-patient ratios at hospitals nationwide — especially in New York City — and the burnout factor that inevitably followed. Many in the profession are worried about having to face another COVID-like outbreak under the same conditions.
That has led to some opting to leave nursing altogether or change their career plans.
With that in mind, it is very heartening to see the nurses and Montefiore agreeing to a three-year contract that addresses staffing, including:
• Guaranteeing more than 170 nursing positions in the emergency department, and increasing the number of float pool nurses.
• Fully-funded health insurance coverage and lifetime insurance coverage for retired nurses.
• Financial penalties if the agreed upon nurse-to-patient ratios are not met.
• A nurse student partnership where local Bronx nurses will be recruited into the union for the long run.
Let’s make it clear that the issue all along has been short staffing, not a shortage of licensed and experienced nurses. The National Nurses United made this point in a news release following the Montefiore contract agreement, which still must be ratified by the rank and file.
“Last year, Minnesota nurses staged the largest nurses strike in U.S. history, and last month the National Health Service nurses in the United Kingdom went on strike for the first time ever over the same exact issue: Insufficient staffing levels to provide safe care for patients.
“In the United States, there is not a shortage of licensed nurses, but a shortage of good jobs with safe conditions that nurses are willing to work.”
In the case of Montefiore, the shortage issue is glaring. There are more than 700 vacant nurse positions, which has led to burnout and the inability to properly care for patients.
It’s too bad this is happening so soon after the COVID-19 pandemic not only killed more than 1 million Americans — including many nurses and fellow hospital workers, who were on the frontline. How soon we all forget what these heroes meant to the battle to keep every ill patient alive.
It should not have taken a strike to remind Montefiore management the importance of these nurses. They must make sure their emergency departments are prepared for the next health crisis by providing a safe workplace and comfortable working conditions for these irreplaceable employees.