Registered nurses at two New York City hospitals rallied last week in protest of staff cutbacks and service reductions, claiming the actions are affecting care for the city's poor.
The New York State Nurses Association, which represents 3,000 nurses at 1,314-bed St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center and 1,181-bed Mount Sinai Medical Center, charged the hospitals with "abandoning their commitment to the poor."
Hospital executives said the cutbacks aren't jeopardizing patient care and are necessary for economic survival.
Since Jan. 1, St. Luke's-Roosevelt has laid off 275 employees, including 73 nurses, to help reduce a more than $12 million deficit, said Barbara Quinn, a spokeswoman for the hospital. An estimate of the savings wasn't available.
Using job vacancies created through attrition, however, the hospital rehired 66 of the nurses, and the other seven were offered positions but declined to accept them, she said.
The hospital acknowledged that more layoffs will be needed to eliminate its massive deficit, although the number and types of positions haven't been determined.
But Elise Conway, a NYSNA representative at St. Luke's-Roosevelt, said nurses have been told that $5 million more must be cut from the nursing budget. That translates to 80 more nursing positions, she said. Opportunities to be rehired won't be available in the next round of cuts, she said.
As part of the deficit reduction plan, St. Luke's-Roosevelt closed two medical-surgical units and two inpatient psychiatric units. It also laid off five nurses who staffed the hospital's methadone clinic.
Although the hospital denies targeting poor patients, Ms. Conway said eliminating these services primarily affects Medicare and Medicaid patients and poor people who enter the hospital through the emergency department because they don't have private physicians.
At Mount Sinai, registered nurses protested a policy to replace them with non-professional personnel at clinics that provide care for poor residents in the city's East Harlem section.
Wendy Z. Goldstein, Mount Sinai's senior vice president for clinical operations, said it's wrong to suggest that the replacements are aimed at facilities for the poor. She said the hospital is re-evaluating the skill mix at all of its ambulatory and inpatient facilities to "get the biggest bang for the buck." Replacing 10 registered nurse positions with lesser-skilled workers at its clinics will save $250,000 to $300,000 annually.
In another labor dispute that gained national notoriety, registered nurses at Jersey Shore Medical Center in Neptune, N.J., ended a 98-day strike with the ratification on March 11 of a four-year contract. Local 5058 of the Hospital Professional and Allied Employees of New Jersey agreed to move to a system of merit pay combined with across-the-board pay increases. The hospital, which had hired more than 80 replacement nurses and dozens of temporary personnel, agreed to rehire within the next month up to 75% of the approximately 520 striking nurses who want to return.