UTICA, N.Y. – Nurses at St. Elizabeth Medical Center, who are members of the New York State Nurses Association, rallied outside of the hospital Monday to address staffing issues that they say compromises patient care.
Mohawk Valley Health System laid off nearly 80 nurses at St. Elizabeth’s in April. While some have since been called back to work, NYSNA says the hospital is still understaffed.
A statement issued by NYSNA prior to the rally said, in part:
“As patient advocates, nurses are speaking out against the current conditions at St. Elizabeth’s and demanding that MVHS put its patients first. They are making these demands at the bargaining table, as well, where the MVHS administration is proposing givebacks that will make providing quality care to patients and retaining nurses even more difficult.”
Chief Human Resources Officer Wayne Rustin released a statement Monday afternoon, clarifying that only five nurses remain laid off:
“Our first priority has and always will be the safety of our patients. As more patients are coming back to MVHS for medical care, employees have been returning to their jobs. In total, close to 200 employees and caregivers are back at work. As of today, only five nurses remain laid off at St. Elizabeth - 42 of the 47 nurses who were laid off at St. Elizabeth are back at work taking care of patients. And, at St. Luke’s 60 caregivers – nurses, care attendants and other – have returned to their patient care responsibilities with more coming back this week."
During the rally, NYSNA’s upstate political director, Corey Ellis, says the nurses are asking to be staffed appropriately for the number of patients and care required.
“The issue we have is that too many of our hospitals are looking at health care as a business. It's a non-for-profit. So, the way we look at it is, you keep the hospital staffed correctly. Because why? It's a profession. You can't tell people ‘OK, go home for three months and then come back’ -- things change every day in the health care field. Things change every day with the number of patients you may or may not see,” he said.
NYSNA represents about 300 nurses at St. Elizabeth’s, who started contract negotiations last week.
“There’s no doubt that the proposal put forth by MVHS will negatively impact nurse retention and recruitment,” said Lisa Streeter, nurse and member of the Executive Committee. “We need all the laid off nurses to come back, and a fair contract that allows us to deliver the highest quality care to our community.”
MVHS was sent a 10-day notice to picket by NYSNA ahead of the rally.
Below is Rustin's full statement:
“Our first priority has and always will be the safety of our patients. As more patients are coming back to MVHS for medical care, employees have been returning to their jobs. In total, close to 200 employees and caregivers are back at work. As of today, only five nurses remain laid off at St. Elizabeth - 42 of the 47 nurses who were laid off at St. Elizabeth are back at work taking care of patients. And, at St. Luke’s 60 caregivers – nurses, care attendants and other – have returned to their patient care responsibilities with more coming back this week.
In essence, we have addressed the need to bring back nursing staff on both MVHS campuses as more services and hospital units reopen in the safest manner possible and patients return for care.
It’s important to note that the furlough and layoff of approximately 20% of the MVHS workforce in April was part of a COVID-19 Recovery Plan, which was designed to address financial losses associated with the pandemic. This plan was put in place with patient safety at the forefront. Reduced staffing at that time was an option because the number of patients coming to MVHS dropped significantly, to less than 50% of what is are [sic] our 'usual' volumes, due to the suspension of elective surgery and reduction of other medical and health-related services. Fewer patients meant that the same level of staffing wasn’t necessary.
MVHS works to maintain a positive working relationship and open dialogue with our employees and the labor unions that represent the various bargaining units within the health system. MVHS respects our union’s right to lawful picketing activity under the National Labor Relations Act and does not interfere with or restrain such activity.
We are disappointed by this demonstration, particularly during a time when we should all be coming together for our patients, our community, and our organization which have all been significantly impacted by COVID-19.
We are in active negotiations with New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) which represents the registered nurses at the MVHS St. Elizabeth Campus. MVHS will continue to negotiate in good faith.”