ADD NURSES, SAVE LIVES: Members of the New York State Nurses Association gathered in Midtown to honor 44 nurses who died from COVID and to advocate for laws mandating staffing ratios. The nurses argued that safe-staffing would allow them to better serve patients, and could have prevented deaths during the height of the pandemic.

“It tears me apart that I know we could have saved more lives if we had more nurses,” Registered Nurse Jaiveer Gal said at an April 1 rally near Greeley Square urging the passage of legislation to increase hospital staffing.

Members of the New York State Nurses Association gathered to push for laws mandating safe-staffing ratios. Studies show that every additional patient per nurse increases the chance of death by seven percent.

Quantity Trumps Quality

“Our job includes comforting our patients and relieving their pain, with our skills and our focus detecting the subtle changes that occur that indicate serious problems, to intervene before they happen, to ensure that every patient has a chance to survive,” NYSNA President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez said. “We can’t do that with too many patients, can we?”

The union has been fighting for safe staffing for years, but the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted how critical the issue is.

“Unfortunately, people don’t realize how much staffing matters unless you’re a patient yourself, unless you’re working in a hospital yourself, or you’re related to somebody working in a hospital, and at that point it’s too late,” said Kelley Cabrera, a Registered Nurse at Jacobi Hospital.

“We all know that right now, there is no limit to the number of patients that you can be asked to provide care to at the same time, NYSNA Executive Director Pat Kane added.

What Bill Would Do

The union has held a series of rallies around the state urging legislators to pass the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act, which would allow nurses to refuse work assignments if minimum staffing levels weren’t met, and would impose fines for health-care facilities that failed to fulfill the minimum ratios.

“As soon as COVID is under control, I hope we can get on a bus to Albany and aggravate the hell out of them,” said Patrice Wallace, a nurse at NYC Health + Hospitals.

The city’s safety-net hospital system became the epicenter of the pandemic as virus cases exploded in the city. The 11 hospitals H+H oversees primarily serve low-income, black and brown and immigrant communities that were more likely to be affected by the crisis. 

But even though safety-net hospitals took care of a disproportionate number of COVID patients, NYSNA Treasurer Nancy Hagans, a Registered Nurse at Maimonides Medical Center, noted that private-hospitals were often better-funded.

'Need a Common Standard'

“We need one common standard for safe-staffing,” regardless of what zip code patients lived in or whether they went to a private or a public hospital, she said.

Ms. Wallace noted that hospitals should be investing in new nurses because many current staffers are set to retire.

“We are all getting older,” she said to laughs.

The union also honored those who have died from the virus, reading aloud the names of 44 nurses who perished over the past year. Last week, the state reached the grim milestone of 50,000 COVID deaths.

“We can’t bring the dead back. But we can do something to prevent deaths,” Ms. Sheridan-Gonzalez said.

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