Leaders of the union representing 18,000 nurses at 14 private hospitals in New York City said Wednesday the nurses could go on strike over staffing levels if negotiations with management fail.
"We need more nurses," said Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, president of the New York State Nurses Association. "Our patients' well-being, their very lives, depend on real staffing standards that enable us to simply do our jobs, to deliver safe, quality care."
The New York City Hospital Alliance denied that its hospitals are understaffed and said its hospitals have put together contingency plans in the event of a strike.
"We are extremely disappointed that NYSNA is taking proactive steps towards a completely unnecessary strike that is clearly not in the best interest of nurses, patients or the hospitals," said Farrell Sklerov, a spokesman for the alliance, a consortium of private hospitals.
Nurses who attended a news conference at a Manhattan hotel said inadequate staffing levels at the hospitals where they work makes it difficult to do their jobs.
"Basically, I am asked to make miracles on a daily basis," said Nancy Hagans, a registered nurse at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn. "For the past few years we've been asked to do more constantly with less."
Union members also charged that hospital managers have tried to intimidate them to keep them from talking about the staffing issue.
Karine Raymond, a nurse at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, said she was threatened with arrest last month when she started talking about staffing levels with co-workers during a breakfast celebrating Nurses Week.
"My director of nursing asked me to leave and told me that I had to prearrange these meetings," Raymond said. "I was surrounded by at least six security guards who told me I had to stop speaking with the nurses, leave, or risk being arrested."
In a statement from the hospital alliance, Sklerov said: "Rigid staffing ratios are an ineffective and outdated practice that takes control out of the hands of health care professionals and overlooks the modern, team-based approach that hospitals have adopted."
Risa Heller, also speaking for the alliance, said Raymond's account of being threatened with arrest was "completely false."
Four days of negotiations started Wednesday. The nurses have been without a contract since around the beginning of the year.
The hospital alliance includes Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx and Mount Sinai Hospital, Mount Sinai St. Luke's, Mount Sinai Roosevelt Hospital Center and New York-Presbyterian Hospital, all in Manhattan. About 9,000 members of the nurses association work in those hospitals, the union said.
The union said the other hospitals affected include New York Methodist Hospital, Interfaith Medical Center, the Brooklyn Hospital Center, and Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in Brooklyn; Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center; Flushing Hospital Medical Center in Queens; and Staten Island University Hospital and Richmond University Medical Center.