For the first time in decades, Nathan Littauer Hospital nurses gathered Thursday afternoon to publicly rally and raise awareness about a dispute with hospital management over contract negotiations.
Their demands for a larger nursing staff and closer nurse-to-patient staffing ratio in high-volume and critical care units have been met with resounding rejection by hospital management.
About 150 nurses and family members, some with children and pets in tow, filled the sidewalk in front of the hospital on East State Street. Bursts of red balloons, clappers, whistles, chants and cheers greeted passing vehicles for two hours. Drivers honked in response, while police monitored traffic due to the increased congestion.
“So far, it’s just been one delay after another,” Mark Genovese, spokesman for the New York State Nurses Association, said of the 8-month-old contract negotiations. “They don’t want to compromise because for them, they just see it merely in terms of dollar signs. But you pay for the care you get. Sometimes you have to make your decisions based on patient care, not just the dollars.”
Hospital management refused to comment on negotiations with the union, which represents Nathan Littauer’s 144 registered nurses and more than 37,000 nurses throughout New York and New Jersey. But it did release a statement Thursday that explained the hospital’s offer: a wage increase less than the 3 percent average of recent years, a modest benefit decrease and no reductions in staff.
“Unfortunately, times have changed,” the statement said. “Municipalities, employers, employees and unions face a more difficult financial period. And as the New York state budget demonstrates, we all have to face the new reality of budget cuts and belt-tightening to get through this difficult time.”
But with nurse-to-patient ratios increasing over the last few years, there is less time to dedicate to each individual patient, Genovese said. Both the patient and the nurse suffer as a result, he said.
“Ask any nurse why they went into this profession, they will tell you it’s a calling,” he said. “They want to care for people. When you have fewer nurses to share the workload, it gets frustrating.”
Genovese and Janice Treanor, a program representative for NYSNA, said they hope the two-hour protest will put some pressure on hospital management before the next attempt at negotiations Monday.
As patient needs increase, especially among the elderly, Treanor said she believes the hospital must meet nurses halfway. Management cut hours for maternity and pediatrics ward clerks who cover the front desks, resulting in nurses taking on additional responsibilities during their shifts.
The current negotiation is the worst Charles Eschler said he can recall. He has cared for patients at Nathan Littauer Hospital as an registered nurse for 28 years, and in that time, he said he has watched administrations come and go, worked under various CEOs and sat on numerous contract negotiating committees.
Hospital lawyers told Eschler that increasing the nursing staff is off the table. Meanwhile, the administration refuses to hire two licensed practical nurses until the nurses settle their contract, he said.
“They have acknowledged the need for LPNs, but they just won’t hire them until the RNs settle the contract,” Eschler said. “Staffing has always been our number one issue.”
Eschler, who works in the emergency room part-time since retiring last year, said critical care units are the hardest hit by the staffing shortage. The hospital expanded the ER last year to include 60 percent more beds, but didn’t hire additional staff.
Night shifts are especially understaffed, he said. Nurses called a supervisor Tuesday to request an additional person for help that night but were told no one was available, Eschler said.
Physicians see the need for increased staff in emergency departments, as well, he said.
“They just had to muddle through,” he said. “I’m loyal to this hospital. This hospital has been good to me, and I’m loyal to the patients and the families in this community. But I’m not loyal to the president and the administration.”
John Washburn came to the event with his two daughters right after he got off work to support his wife, a nurse in the Intensive Care Unit. Almost immediately after she began working at Nathan Littauer more than a year ago, he said he noticed her shifts lengthen to 12 hours some days. On her days off, she would get a phone call: “We need you to cover someone’s shift.”
“If you look on the caller ID, you see every day that they’re calling her to come in,” Washburn said.
There are too many patients for the number of nurses on staff, Washburn said. The doctors become stressed because patients and family come up and complain about the wait in the emergency room.
His daughters, Brooke, 15, and Emily, 13, said they wish their mom was home more often.
“It’s upsetting to see her work so much,” said Brooke Washburn. “We used to get to do a lot more with her, and now we never really see her.”
Categories: Schenectady County