Ellis Medicine says it will not allow nurses to return to work for at least five days should they initiate a strike Sept. 3.
The Schenectady-based hospital system is in the midst of heated and protracted contract negotiations with the New York State Nurses Association, which announced Thursday at a news conference in downtown Schenectady that it had filed a 10-day notice to strike. If a contract agreement is not reached within those 10 days, the nurses will strike from 7 a.m. Sept. 3 to 6:59 a.m. Sept. 4.
The union called the hospital’s decision to lock its nurses out for up to five days “unconscionable” and said they may picket until members are permitted to return to work. The hospital, however, insists that a lockout would be in the patients’ best interest.
“We have been working very diligently on a plan for months and months in the event that this should occur,” said Wendy Rosher, executive vice president of operations and strategic planning for Ellis. “We have contracted with an agency that would come in and cover our hospital for a period of five days. To bring outsiders in for a 24-hour period is very difficult for continuity of care and handoff of care from one shift to another.”
Ellis nurses have been without a contract for more than a year and a half. The sticking point in contract negotiations, they say, is their demand for safe staffing levels. For years, they have spoken out about the need for more nurses in each department, especially emergency and intensive care units that deal with high-acuity and critical patients.
Denise D’Avella, a nurse who spent eight years in the hospital’s intensive care unit, said she left the department about six months ago because the nurse-to-patient ratio had reached dangerous levels.
“These patients are critical,” she said at the news conference. “Very often they need one-to-one nursing. And to triple them or double them just is not going to produce good patient outcomes. Nobody goes into nursing to become rich. We’re there for the patients. We all want the same thing — good positive patient outcomes. But you can’t accomplish that with inadequate staffing.”
Hospital management has proposed a “float pool” to address the issue of staffing levels. The group of so-called float nurses would be called in when others are absent or when certain units are hit with too many high-acuity patients at once. But the union says these nurses aren’t adequately trained for any particular unit in the way that dedicated unit nurses are.
At Thursday’s news conference, nurses were joined by area labor union officials and elected officials who lent their support to the cause of safe staffing. Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy urged both hospital management and the union leadership to take the coming 10 days to “wipe the slate clean” and put in place a contract that serves nurses, patients and the entire community.
“Roughly 600 nurses work at Ellis, and they are really the front line,” he said. “Most times they are the first person that you deal with when you’re going to the hospital for treatment or a procedure or some condition that you have, so it’s important to have adequate staffing and to make sure employees are adequately compensated and that you have the resources so that Ellis can deliver the level of service that it historically has.”
The Sept. 3 strike would take place at Ellis Hospital’s main campus on Nott Street.