Public hospital and Mayoral agency nurses and supporters sounded the alarm on the crisis of high turnover and understaffing that harms patient care
25% of staff nurse positions remain vacant in NYC public hospitals and the city spent a whopping $197 million on temporary travel nurse contracts to fill staffing gaps in just the first three months of 2022
New York, NY— On Wednesday, May 10th, 2023 hundreds of NYSNA members who work for NYC Health+Hospitals and Mayoral agencies rallied at Foley Square to sound the alarm on the crisis of understaffing and high turnover that threatens care for the vulnerable patients who depend on our city’s public health system. Nurses are calling for pay equity as a matter of healthcare and racial justice, and were joined at the rally by Rev. Al Sharpton, elected leaders, and allies.
Nearly 2,000 nurses – adding up to 25% of staff nurse positions – are missing from our public hospitals after a mass exodus of staff since 2020 due to low pay and pandemic burnout. The city spent a whopping $197 million on temporary travel nurse contracts in just the first three months of 2022 to fill those staffing gaps. That’s more than it would cost over an entire year to raise public sector nurse wages to parity with private sector nurse pay. Even by a conservative estimate, the city likely spent over half a billion dollars on temporary travel nurse contracts in 2022. It’s costing New York City more to keep nurse pay so low.
NYSNA President Nancy Hagans, RN, BSN, CCRN said: “It doesn’t take an advanced degree in mathematics to understand that if the city spent half a billion dollars on temporary travel nurses last year, they can afford to take just a portion of that and spend it on pay parity for staff nurses at our public hospitals so that every New Yorker has a qualified nurse at their bedside. It’s the right thing to do. And it’s the fiscally sound thing to do.”
Sonia Lawrence, RN, President of NYSNA’s NYC Health+Hospitals/Mayorals Executive Council and nurse at H+H/Lincoln Hospital said: “We cannot have health equity for our public hospital patients without the pay equity we need to keep nurses at the bedside. Our public hospitals are the backbone of healthcare in NYC but care for vulnerable patients is at risk because we can’t retain enough experienced nurses. We need pay raises so that we can stop hemorrhaging nurses, who leave for the private sector where they can make $19,000 a year more in their first year.”
Elected leaders and allies joined the rally to show their support for nurses, including Rev. Al Sharpton, NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, NYC Comptroller Brad Lander, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, NYC Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO President Vincent Alvarez, Committee of Interns and Residents / SEIU, New York Communities for Change, PSC-CUNY, Campaign for New York Health, and New York City Council Members Mercedes Narcisse, Carmen De La Rosa, Julie Won, Carlina Rivera, Julie Menin, and Rita Joseph.
New York City’s public hospitals and mayoral agencies make up the largest public healthcare system in the country and provide care for 1.4 million New Yorkers each year – regardless of insurance or immigration status, or ability to pay. Heath+Hospitals/Mayorals System nurses are in the midst of union contract negotiations with the city.
Public sector nurses are mobilizing on the heels of a strike victory for private sector nurses, who won groundbreaking contracts that improved staffing and included 19.9 percent pay increases. With new raises for private sector nurses, the pay disparity for newly graduated nurses in the public sector will be over $19,000 per year. NYC’s public health facilities serve mostly Black and brown and immigrant New Yorkers and are staffed by mostly Black and brown and immigrant nurses. Pay parity is an issue of health and racial equity for New York City.
At a City Council hearing, Health + Hospitals President and CEO Dr. Mitchell Katz acknowledged that low pay for public hospital nurses is causing high turnover and that expensive travel nurses now make up 25 percent of nursing staff, contributing to a budget shortfall. In his testimony, Dr. Katz said he supports safe staffing levels and acknowledged that H+H has fallen short.
Judith Cutchin, DNP, RN, NYSNA First Vice President and nurse at NYC H+H/Woodhull said: “Nurse retention is the worst I’ve ever seen it. We are constantly hiring, training, and then watching our new nurses leave because of the huge pay difference. We can’t achieve the safe staffing and quality care our patients deserve until we have competitive wages for nurses. The city spends more than twice as much per hour on expensive, short-term travel nurse contracts. They can afford to pay their hardworking staff nurses who are committed to our communities.”
Alizia McMyers, RN, Vice-President of NYSNA’s NYC Health+Hospitals and Mayorals Executive Council and nurse at H+H/Harlem Hospital said: “We want to be here for our patients and ensure that those who are less fortunate are able to get quality care. But every day I talk to nurses who tell me they can’t afford to keep working here with pay so low. The nurses who do stay are tired and burned out because we are constantly understaffed. They’re picking up extra shifts to help out, and now there’s pressure to never call out sick. When the administration tries to fill staffing holes by being punitive and pressuring nurses to work sick, it means we never get a chance to recover. And that leads to even more illness, exhaustion and burnout.”
Musu King, RN at H+H/Lincoln Hospital said: “As an Emergency Department nurse, my number one concern is safety for our patients and safety for our nurses. As the only Level 1 Trauma Center in the Bronx, we have ambulances bringing people in all day and night. Nurses try to cover each other’s patients and fill all the holes but it can feel impossible without enough staff. When patients get frustrated with long wait times or delays in care, they take it out on us. I’ve seen very ill patients get fed up and walk out of the Emergency Room. Short staffing leads to a cycle of frustrated nurses who quit because they can’t give patients the care they were trained to give.”
Peter Pacheco, RN at H+H/Henry J Carter Specialty Hospital, New York City’s only acute long term care facility, said: “Our patients require close monitoring, but when we are understaffed – which is daily in at least one shift or more – that is impossible. When we are understaffed, assessments are not done on time, medications are not administered on time, and we are running through nursing tasks instead of giving our patients the nursing care we want to give and that every patient deserves. With rampant understaffing, the survival of our entire public healthcare system in NYC is at risk.”
“The City cannot afford to rely on a revolving door of temporary agency nurses to fill staffing gaps at our public hospitals. It is costly and unsustainable. The City must step up and redirect resources toward fair pay and safe staffing for full time nurses. Patients, nurses, and our healthcare system deserve better,” said Comptroller Brad Lander.
“Our healthcare heroes have sacrificed so much for our city over the past three years, risking their own lives to save others every single day as the COVID-19 pandemic raged. Before, during and after the worst days of the pandemic, these frontline workers have served our families with grace and dignity, and they deserve to be treated with the same by those who employ them,” said Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr. “Banging pots and pans aren’t enough, it’s past time we firmly stood behind those who have kept our city standing during this unprecedented time in our history, especially our public sector healthcare heroes. This means better pay, safe working conditions and a fair contract. Let’s get it done. Now.”
“Public sector nurses who care for our City’s most vulnerable patients need a fair contract to ensure that working New Yorkers who rely on our public health system are getting the quality, compassionate care that they deserve.” said NYC Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO President Vincent Alvarez. “Pay disparity between private and public sector nurses has now resulted in a crisis of understaffing that is actively undermining quality of patient care and threatening public health. We need to be investing in the health of our City and its essential workers, not wasting money on short term contracts that keep permanent nurse pay low. The NYC Labor Movement stands with NYSNA and our Health+Hospitals nurses to demand the contract they need in order to continue to provide exceptional care to the patients and communities they serve.”
“Nurses provide critical care and support to patients; we must establish fair employment contracts for nurses that ensure their rights are protected, and they receive fair compensation and have a safe work environment. Fair contracts not only benefit nurses but also patients, as they contribute to the delivery of quality healthcare services to the greater community,” said Council Member Marjorie Velázquez, Chair of the Committee on Consumer and Worker Protection.
“In order to make sure New Yorkers get the best care possible, hospitals must implement safe staffing standards and pay nurses fairly. A persistent and worsening pay disparity is hurting our public hospitals, and the 1.4 million New Yorkers served by the public hospital system a year. I support nurses fighting for safe staffing and pay equity with the private sector,” said Council Member Carlina Rivera.
“We cannot ignore the ongoing crisis in our healthcare system as understaffing endangers patients lives and nurses ability to serve. Nurses are the lifeline of the healthcare system and the time is now for the City of New York to implement pay parity which is an issue of healthcare justice. Our public nurses deserve a seat at the table in strengthening the city’s healthcare system and they deserve a fair contract now,” said Council Member Julie Menin.
NYC’s public hospital and mayoral agencies nurses have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a member survey, one out of every two H+H nurses have gotten infected with COVID at work. In the early months of the pandemic, the majority of NYSNA members who died of COVID-19 on the frontlines were from the public sector. Although H+H/ Mayorals members represent 35% of NYSNA’s NYC members, they accounted for 53% of the deaths.
The New York State Nurses Association represents more than 42,000 members in New York State. We are New York’s largest union and professional association for registered nurses. NYSNA is an affiliate of National Nurses United, AFL-CIO, the country’s largest and fastest-growing union and professional association of registered nurses, with more than 225,000 members nationwide.
NYSNA nurses rally at Foley Square for safe staffing and pay parity.
Photo credit: Rochni Khatri