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The state’s nursing union and Mount Sinai West hospital came to an agreement late Sunday, narrowly avoiding a significant strike, while Mt Sinai’s main campus and Montefiore Hospital faced a walkout Monday morning.

Mt Sinai West Hospital in Hell’s Kitchen. Photo: Phil O’Brien

In a statement on negotiations with the Hell’s Kitchen hospital and Mt Sinai Morningside Hospital (which are on different contracts than Mt Sinai’s Upper East Side headquarters), the New York State Nursing Association (NYSNA) said: “Today, Mount Sinai West and Mount Sinai Morningside reached a settlement, subject to ratification, with NYSNA union leadership and NYSNA has rescinded its strike notice at those sites. This agreement includes the identical 19.1 percent wage increases in agreements that have already been accepted by six other hospitals and officially ratified by NewYork-Presbyterian and Maimonides.”

Mt Sinai West joins other New York hospitals that have reached agreement with the NYSNA, including BronxCare Health System, Flushing Hospital Medical Center, Maimonides Medical Center, Mount Sinai Morningside, NewYork-Presbyterian, Richmond University Medical Center, and The Brooklyn Hospital Center. Over the weekend, Mt Sinai transferred its NICU babies out of the hospital and diverted ambulances in anticipation of a potential strike. According to the New York Post, an average of 13,500 babies are born a year at Mt Sinai and Mt Sinai West.

Local support for healthcare workers in Hell’s Kitchen remained strong throughout the pandemic — with West Side residents keeping up the “7pm cheer” long past most other neighborhoods and many residents calling workers at Mt Sinai West and other New York hospitals life-saving heroes. Said Bob Nussbaum of Manhattan Plaza: “We’ve not missed a day in one year. When others around the city and the world quit, we kept coming out with our cowbells and maracas.”

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New York nurses were celebrated around the city at 7pm each evening during the pandemic. Video: Phil O’Brien

But on the other side of town, more than 7,000 nurses from Mt Sinai’s main campus and the Montefiore hospital system in the Bronx went on strike Monday morning, blaming failed negotiations on wage increases, safe staffing measures and further worker protections from union-busting retaliation.

The NYSNA and representatives from Mt Sinai West had been at a standoff since Thursday, when the two parties walked away from negotiations without an agreement (according to CNN). A press release from the union stated that nurses citywide “have been sounding the alarm about the short-staffing crisis that puts patients at risk, especially during a tripledemic of COVID, RSV and flu. Nurses say hospitals aren’t doing enough to keep caregivers at the bedside, and instead of working with COVID nurse heroes, in some cases, have violated union rights, spied on and interrogated nurses about union activity and tried to silence nurses from speaking out about understaffing.” 

Said one former nurse: “I left Sinai a year ago because of the conditions. Will never forget the day I had four post-op stepdown patients (one of which was on pressers) as well as two floor patients. Another nurse carried eight floor patients. Other nurses carried similar assignments including multiple trachs and vents and sadly this was too frequently the norm. All we would do was sign a POA. STAY STRONG SINAI NURSES you deserve so much better.”

“As a labor and delivery nurse who helps mothers to bring babies into this world, I find it outrageous that Mount Sinai would compromise care for our NICU babies in any way,” said NYSNA Director at Large and Labor and Delivery nurse at Mount Sinai RN Matt Allen.  “We already have NICU nurses caring for twice as many sick babies as they should be. We’ve been sounding the alarm about how that’s not safe for our NICU patients, but Mount Sinai has failed to address this crisis. It’s unconscionable that Mount Sinai refuses to address unsafe staffing in our NICU and other units of the hospital but is now stirring fears about our NICU babies in contract negotiations.

Allen added: “Mount Sinai’s lack of careful planning to care for our most vulnerable patients in the event of a strike, combined with continued guilting and gaslighting of our nurses to encourage them to cross a picket line only deepens our resolve to win enforceable safe staffing ratios. It’s time to come to the table and work with us to protect our most vulnerable patients, instead of fighting against us.”

The concerns extend past staffing, with several nurses alleging that the hospital system has protected sexually abusive staff and board members, after it was revealed that patient Aja Newman was assaulted by the doctor assigned to her care.  

And as a strike kicked off outside the main Mt Sinai campus, the nurses union remained focused on applying pressure to the wound of healthcare bureaucracy, demanding a safer environment for all. “Mt Sinai has been exploiting employees and endangering patients for too long,” tweeted the Equality Now Mt Sinai Twitter account. “Our nurses and the communities they serve deserve better.”

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