HANGING UP THEIR SCRUBS: The staffing shortages and working conditions at NYC Health + Hospitals have pushed many of the most-experienced nurses out of the city's public hospital system, the New York State Nurses Association warned at a Jan. 13 rally. 'When all of the experienced nurses leave, they take their experience with them. This is my cry for help,' said Karen Lam, a Registered Nurse at Jacobi Hospital.

The loss of nurses across city hospitals, including at NYC Health + Hospitals, has not only left medical facilities short-staffed, it’s also drained the most-experienced health-care workers from the system, nurses said Jan. 13.

Jeremy Schmidt, a Registered Nurse at Jacobi Hospital, has trained 20 nurses over the nine years he’s worked at the facility. 

'Offers They Couldn't Refuse'

“Two of them are left,” he said at a rally held by the New York State Nurses Association outside the Bronx hospital. “They have left not because they couldn’t hack it, but because our competitors made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. More money, better tuition reimbursement, [fewer] hours and better opportunities.”

Mr. Schmidt explained that the average cost to train a nurse was about $40,000, and because several units at the Bronx hospital had lost 15 to 20 nurses, there were some where the average nurse had less than a year of experience on the job.

“This adds cost and stress to an already overburdened system. The city needs to retain nurses, not retrain. The city needs to fix this problem,” he said.

Jacobi Nurse Karen Lam said that the hospital has been experiencing overcrowded emergency rooms since the surge of coronavirus cases due to the Omicron variant. The main difference between the current Omicron wave and the first wave in the spring of 2020 has been the exodus of nurses, she stated.

Nurse of All Specialties

Because of the staffing shortages and increased patient-load, “I am expected to be a Med-Surge Nurse, an ICU nurse, a Trauma nurse, an ER nurse, a pharmacist, a preceptor--and I simply can’t do it,” she said. “I wish I could split myself down the middle so I can be all of these things at once, but that still wouldn’t be enough.”

Ms. Lam added that she was tired of “feeling like a bad nurse” when the problem was that nurses have were working in poor conditions.

“When all of the experienced nurses leave, they take their experience with them. We need help. This is my cry for help,” she said.

Reggie Atangan, an RN at Queens Hospital, noted that the union’s January 2020 contract with the public-hospital system established nurse-to-patient ratios but those ratios have not been enforced.

“It’s been two years too long. We demand you make good on your side of this contract,” he said.

Not Just Due to Virus

The health-care workers highlighted that it wasn’t just coronavirus patients coming to hospitals. The pediatric trauma unit at Jacobi was treating several of the children who suffered burns and other injuries at Twin Parks North West, the site of the deadly Bronx fire Jan. 9.

Registered Nurse Sean Petty said that although the pediatric trauma unit was the largest in the borough and the nearby lower Westchester-area, there had been only one Pediatric ICU nurse on staff.

“We are suffering an experience drain unlike anything any of us have ever witnessed in our careers,” he said.

A week earlier, Mayor Adams announced that the city would provide $111 million to NYC H+H to hire staff. Jacobi Registered Nurse Kelly Cabrera said that while she was grateful for the funding, “it’s a short-term solution. We need a drastic change in our health-care system,” she said, calling on the state to pass the New York Health Act and single-payer health-care legislation. 

Even prior to the pandemic, NYSNA spent years fighting for safe staffing. The union has also pushed back against the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recent emergency guidance shortening the isolation period from 10 to five days for vaccinated health-care workers who tested positive for the virus.

'Too-Short Recovery Time'

Although the guidance was issued last month out of concern that there would be staffing shortages at health-care facilities because of increased COVID cases among workers, the nurses’ union argued that the shortened quarantine could worsen the staffing shortages.

“What respiratory illness do you know of that an average person can recover in five days and work at 100 percent functionality? This creates massive patient safety issues,” Mr. Atangan said.

NYSNA Executive Director Pat Kane stated that last month, nearly 3,000 health-care workers at NYC H+H tested positive for COVID, up from 154 in November.

“And how did we respond to that? By decreasing isolation and quarantine,” she said.

The union leader also held a moment of silence for health-care workers who have died from the virus, including a 52-year-old nurse who died last week.

“Not all of the nurses are coming back,” Ms. Kane said.


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There's an old saying " your messing with the wrong people"

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