Nurses have filed 26,219 complaints about understaffing in hospitals across the state in 2019 and 2020, the New York State Nurses Association reported Feb. 24.
The protests of assignment—formal complaints made to hospital management—drew the signatures of more than 97,000 nurses, according to the union.
For years, NYSNA has pushed for safe-staffing ratios. Studies have shown that with every additional patient a nurse takes on, the chance of death increases seven percent.
And the problem of understaffing worsened during the pandemic, putting patients at risk, nurses say. Irving Campbell, a Registered Nurse at New York-Presbyterian Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn, stated that the facility had lost over 100 nurses while hiring only 16 since August.
“This at a time when our nurses here are doing the best with so little. And what do we get for the tireless work we do? We get a closure of the pediatric and psychiatric units, we get an ER that has been decimated by resignations and retirement due to poor working conditions,” he said during a Feb. 22 rally.
Diane Bonet, a Pediatric Nurse at the hospital, warned that staff “cannot meet a safe standard of care if our administration refuses to staff enough qualified, trained nurses in every unit of the hospital.”
Among the protests of assignment filed in 2019 and 2020, 8,812 complaints concerned staffing levels at NYC Health + Hospitals facilities, with 32,888 nurses signing them.
Hit Especially Hard
Last spring, the city’s public-hospital system became the epicenter of the pandemic as COVID cases surged in the city. The 11 H+H hospitals predominantly serve low-income, black and brown and immigrant communities that were disproportionately affected by the crisis. In April, daily hospitalizations reached 12,000.
“Both before and during the pandemic, understaffing at our public hospitals has been severe and puts patients in jeopardy,” said Judith Cutchin, president of NYSNA's NYC H+H Executive Council and a Registered Nurse and Director-at-Large at Woodhull Hospital. “This condition in our hospitals continues today, and our nurses must care for far too many patients. It is unsafe. The communities we serve pay a price—in lives.”
NYSNA recently held a series of rallies around the state, including one at Erie County Medical Center, urging legislators to pass the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act. The bill would set minimum nurse-staffing ratios for hospitals and nursing homes, 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.
The union argued that a report released last month by State Attorney General Letitia James indicating that a substantial number of coronavirus deaths at nursing homes occurred at facilities that had insufficient staffing levels demonstrated why the bill needed to be passed.
The state Department of Health has opposed the bill, arguing that the costs of meeting these staffing levels—estimated to be as much as $2.4 billion—could result in the closing of medical facilities. In a report released last August, the DOH determined that hospitals across the state would need an additional 24,779 Registered Nurses to meet the proposed staffing minimums, while nursing homes would need to hire 10,181 more nurses.
We depend on the support of readers like you to help keep our publication strong and independent. Join us.