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Nurses strike averted at 2 more NYC hospitals, others make emergency plans

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A massive strike by nurses at two major city hospitals was averted Sunday when their union reached a tentative new contract, but two of the biggest and busiest hospitals where a crippling walkout loomed were hastily postponing surgeries and transferring vulnerable newborns needing intensive care.

The New York State Nurses Association settled its contract disputes with Mount Sinai West and Mount Sinai Morningside, agreeing to wage increases of more than 19% over three years, the hospitals said in a statement.

The tentative deals improve staffing standards and enforcement, a major sticking point in negotiations, the union said.

“We have always said our No. 1 issue is the crisis of staffing, chronic understaffing that harms patient care,” NYSNA President Nancy Hagans said at a news briefing earlier on Sunday. “It is an issue that our employers have ignored.”

Despite the progress, unionized nurses had failed to reach contact deals at Mount Sinai Hospital and at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, where more than 7,100 nurses threatened to walk off the job at 6 am Monday.

Mount Sinai officials said the threat of a walkout was forcing the hospital system to divert ambulances to other facilities, postpone elective and heart surgeries, find alternative treatment locations for cancer patients and transfer sick babies from its newborn intensive care unit.

More than 120 nurses work in Mount Sinai’s NICU, which has 46 beds and treats more than 1,000 newborns each year, often from other hospitals in the region.

The city Fire Department was making plans to reroute ambulances away from stricken hospitals if there is a walkout, and the city’s Office of Emergency Management set up a “situation room” to monitor events if a strike occurs, officials said.

Montefiore’s emergency department is the most heavily used in New York State and among the five busiest in the country, according to the hospital’s website. It receives about 275,000 adult patient visits a year from the city, Westchester County and Connecticut, it said.

The labor strife comes as cases of flu, COVID-19 and RSV rage throughout the city, Mount Sinai said in a statement.

“It is unfortunate that we are facing the possibility of a strike that will place even more strain on New York City’s emergency departments and health systems during a time of crisis,” Mount Sinai said.

The hospital said its contract offers were the same as those agreed to by the NYSNA at NewYork-Presbyterian and Maimonides.

Nurses belonging to the NYSNA at a dozen New York City hospitals have been negotiating new deals after their contracts expired on Dec. 31, at loggerheads over wages, staffing levels and health care benefits. The union says staffing levels are dangerously low as the number of nurses has dropped since the pandemic.

Tentative deals have been reached at the Bronx Care Health System, Flushing Hospital Medical Center, The Brooklyn Hospital Center and Richmond University Medical Center. Nurses at Maimonides Medical Center ratified a new three-year settlement on Friday and nurses at NewYork-Presbyterian voted to ratify their deal on Saturday.

Talks with the remaining hospitals could go right down to the wire on Monday morning, the NYSNA said.

“We do not take striking lightly, but that’s what will happen if our bosses give us no other choice,” Hagans said.

Zach Clapp, a nurse in the Pediatric Cardiac ICU at Mount Sinai Hospital, signs a board demanding safe staffing during a rally by NYSNA nurses from NY Presbyterian and Mount Sinai, March 16, 2021, in New York.  With a strike deadline looming, contract negotiations continued Sunday, Jan.  8, 2023, between some New York City hospitals and the union representing nearly 9,000 nurses prepared to walk out on Monday, Jan.  9, union officials said.

The biggest issue with Mount Sinai and Montefiore is low staffing and the nurse-to-patient ratioshe said.

Mount Sinai has more than 500 nursing vacancies, and Montefiore has 760, she said. Also, nurses at the Mount Sinai NICU often were caring for three sick babies each, when the standard is one or two babies per nurse, Hagans said.

Mount Sinai snapped back over the staffing issue, saying “Their focus on rigid, inflexible ratios … ignores the progress we have made to attract and hire more new nurses, despite a global shortage.”

Negotiators at Mt. Sinai also sparred over which side brought talks to a two-day halt last week. The head of the nurses’ union pointed at Mount Sinai officials, while the hospital blamed the union.

Sources told NBC News that Gov. Kathy Hochul and her staff helped bring Mount Sinai back to the bargaining table on Sunday morning.

More than two dozen labor unions released an open letter last week indicating their solidarity with the nurses in the event of a strike. If a strike is called, a picket line was set for outside Mount Sinai on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

The city’s Office of Emergency Management has assembled a “situation room” to monitor hospital operations and reroute the flow of ambulances if a strike occurs, officials said told POLITICO late last week.

The plan would include members of the Fire Department, police, city Health Department and others, according to Andrew Dahl, vice president for Emergency Preparedness and Response at the Greater New York Hospital Association, a trade organization of some 276 area hospitals and facilities.

The trade association also said it was keeping Mayor Eric Adams and Hochul up to date on the situation, and Hochul said late last week that her staff was in regular contact with the nurses and with hospital administrators.

“My full expectation is that this will be resolved because there is no alternative,” she said on Friday.