Nurses and Lenox Hill Continue Talks As Deadline Approaches
October 26, 2012
By Marc Bussanich
Negotiations between the New York Professional Nurses Union and Lenox Hill Hospital continue as the current labor contract is scheduled to expire next week. Last week the nurses voted overwhelmingly for the leadership to call a strike if necessary. On Thursday morning outside the East 77th Street subway station nurses kicked off an outreach effort to urge the community to call the hospital’s CEO to drop contract proposals that would erode nurses’ standards.
Eileen Toback, NYPNU’s chief of staff, said that nobody wants to strike in this economy.
“Many nurses have spoken out at meetings that they are the sole breadwinner in their family because their spouses are out of work. They’re scared and they don’t want to strike, but they know they need to stand up to preserve patient care and their benefits."
“This is our first contract talks with North Shore-LIJ since it acquired Lenox Hill in 2010. Negotiations are difficult, but we hope that we can establish a good working relationship to keep Lenox Hill one of the best hospitals in the world.”
Toback noted that Lenox Hill is a full-service hospital that is well known for its stellar emergency room, cardiac, orthopedic and a range of different specialties. But nearby are some other reputable hospitals, Columbia University Medical Center and NYU Langone Medical Center, that compete with Lenox Hill for skilled nurses.
“We need to attract and keep the best nurses in the area. The healthcare market in Manhattan for nurses is very competitive and we need to have a competitive package of salary and benefits that attract nurses. We’re not looking for anything special,” Toback said.
One of the proposals the nurses have presented to Lenox Hill at the bargaining table is improving nurse-to-patient ratios. Toback mentioned that different departments have varying degrees of patient care. For example, on the medical and surgical floors the ratio might be higher because a nurse can care for more than three patients. In contrast, only one nurse might be required to care for a patient who is attached to a heart monitor in the neonatal ICU, is taking several medications and is at risk of deteriorating health, but it’s very exhausting because the nurse has to spend every minute of the day administering drugs and monitoring the patient.
“Obviously, patient care is a critical issue in the contract talks. Nurses don’t enter the union office crying over wages, but they express fear of losing their license because they might have been responsible for too many patients during one of their shifts,” said Toback.
Olivia, an NYPNU nurse whose worked at Lenox Hill for the past six years, said that she used to work for a smaller non-union hospital on Long Island and that the difference between the two is telling.
“The nurses on Long Island had a lot of grievances, but we didn’t have a union voice. It wasn't unusual for one nurse to be responsible for ten or more patients during one shift. The nurses tried to form a union, but management wouldn't tolerate that,” said Olivia.
She also noted that she and her colleagues at Lenox Hill are a bit nervous as the contract deadline nears expiration, but they are prepared.
“We understand that if we don’t take a stand now, they’ll walk over us when the next contract comes up and the contract after that. It’s very disheartening that Lenox Hill is offering less than two percent for each year of a three-year contract. We need at the very least three percent just to keep up with the cost of living.”