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Nurses at New Rochelle hospital strike amid COVID-19 surge


Hundreds of nurses at a Westchester County hospital went on strike Tuesday — accusing their health-care system of underpaying them and creating dangerous staffing issues amid the surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

At least 200 nurses from Montefiore hospital in New Rochelle walked off the job in a two-day strike as contract negotiations stalled between the New York State Nurses Association union and the hospital.

Several picketers said the hospital is overrun with coronavirus patients and that nurses just can’t keep up.

“It’s terrible! We don’t have enough staffing!” said Shalon Matthews, 52, an emergency room nurse for five years.

She said the ideal nurse-to-patient ratio is 1 to 4, “but because of COVID, we’ve had some critical patients” and beds have been quickly filling up over the past two weeks.

“Now it’s 1 to 7 in the ER,” she said. “In the ICU, it should be 1 to 1 — now it’s 1 to 3. It’s making it hard to give the best care.”

Melissa Ricketts, who has worked in what’s known as the “med surg unit” in the ER for four years, dropped even more startling statistics.

“Normally we start with seven patients, it should be five or six,” she said of the ER. “We started with 31 yesterday. The number of COVID patients is picking up.”

The throng of nurses marched up and down the sidewalk, wearing red hats, gloves and scarves and holding signs reading, “Too many patients. Too few RNs.”

The union, the largest in the state representing 42,000 frontline nurses, claims it offered “significant compromises” over the weekend, including “real reductions in their overall economic proposals.”

Reps for Montefiore handed out a press release from Monday at the protest and did not take questions.

Marcos Crespo, the senior vice president of community affairs, said the hospital offered various concessions over the last 18 months of talks, including over 7 percent in wage increases, medical expenses for retired nurses, tuition reimbursement of $7,500 per year, health insurance with no employee contributions and funding for the union pension fund.

Crespo accused the union of “willfully misleading the public” by suggesting the hospital isn’t prepared for this current coronavirus surge.

“NYSNA is striking because they want the power to dictate staffing assignments and hand out plum positions to their friends, while Montefiore believes the decisions on how to treat patients and make these assignments rests not with any one group alone, but with the entire team caring for the patient,” Crespo said in a statement.

Late last month, the NYSNA filed a complaint with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration alleging that the hospital wasn’t providing adequate personal protective equipment to nurses — as well as mixing COVID-19 patients with the general population.

The union noted that the ER in New Rochelle only has 15 beds “which leaves potential COVID patients in the waiting room, increasing risk of exposure,” and one isolation room.

Crespo denied those allegations, saying the hospital is stocked with 90 days of PPE.

“NYSNA is selfishly putting the community at risk and using COVID-19 as a political football,” he said. “We choose patients over NYSNA’s politics.”

Meanwhile, in the state’s capital, nurses at Albany Medical Center Hospital began a 24-hour strike Tuesday over their deadlocked contract negotiations.

Nurses there, who are also represented by NYSNA, said in an OSHA complaint that they’re forced to reuse N95 respirator masks as many as 20 times.

“This is a painful day for Albany Med,” hospital spokesperson Matthew Markham said. “While some of our nurses have chosen to abandon their patients, even as coronavirus hospitalizations continue reaching record levels in the Capital Region, Albany Med will not abandon its mission.”

He said temporary nurses were at the hospital to replace those who are striking.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Monday that daily coronavirus hospitalizations had hit 3,500 on Sunday — a figure that was down to about 900 in June.

With Post Wires


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