Capital-region nurses unite for patients and their profession

Submitted by ADonahue on
Group of nurses smiling with raised fists

Staff report

National Nurse magazine - April | May | June 2024 Issue

New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) nurses from Albany Medical Center, Ellis Hospital, Bellevue Woman’s Center, and Nathan Littauer Hospital are coming together to fight for safe staffing, respectful wages, and fair contracts.

Starting in February, nurses from these facilities began meeting monthly to plan and strategize around shared issues to amplify their power and advocate for their patients and their profession. After discussing problems at their facilities, nurses realized they were facing similar issues, from unsafe staffing levels to service cuts to employers who place profits before patient care. Now they are working together and supporting on another in the fight to provide quality health care to the capital region.

At these meetings, nurses discussed how the Albany Med Health System has consolidated significantly in the last 20 years with the acquisition of nearby hospitals. Quantity is not the same thing as quality. Now Albany Medical Center, the health system’s flagship hospital that serves approximately one-third of capital region patients, has some of the longest emergency department waiting times in the state.

On Feb. 7, Albany Med nurses hosted a community town hall to discuss the staffing crisis, especially in critical care, that is putting patients at risk. Nurses described the effect of persistent understaffing on patient care and nurse retention, and community leaders weighed in with their experiences as patients. In the last few months, nurses have submitted numerous complaints to the New York State Department of Health detailing chronic unsafe staffing ratios and the hospital’s refusal to address staffing — in violation of state law.

Jen Bejo, RN, president of NYSNA’s labor bargaining unit at Albany Med, said: “Staffing is a huge issue for us – everyone feels the pressure to do more with less support. It’s overwhelming, especially when we’re already stretched thin. As nurses, we want to do more for our patients, but we can’t because of the hospital’s consistent failure to provide a safe working environment for us and our patients. Unsafe staffing destroys our morale and leads to exhaustion and burnout.”

Nurses at Ellis Medicine and Bellevue Women’s Center are also sounding the alarm about what a merger with Trinity-owned St. Peter’s Health System will bring. Since entering a merger agreement, Ellis management has cut essential health care services like overnight emergency services and inpatient adolescent mental health care at Ellis Hospital. In Ellis and Bellevue nurses’ fight for a fair contract, they have demanded that Ellis stop the cuts and invest in safe patient care instead.

St. Peter’s has been on a consolidation and cutting spree, and not just at Ellis. NYSNA nurses raised concerns about the impact that St. Peter’s proposed closure of maternal health services at Samaritan Hospital’s Burdett Birth Center in Troy will have on community care in the area. Capital region nurses spoke out on Feb. 28 at a public forum that St. Peter’s Health Partners hosted about the proposed closure of Samaritan Hospital’s Burdett Birth Center.

At the public forum, Bellevue Woman’s Center neonatal intensive care unit nurse, Dawn Zipp, RN, said: “We have a maternal and child mortality crisis in this country, and St. Peter’s is closing these essential health care services at exactly the wrong time. I am deeply concerned about St. Peter’s commitment to women’s rights and maternal health based on this proposed closure. They need to stop the cuts and start investing in safe patient care for our moms and babies.”

Nurses are also actively working within their facilities to do joint actions that bring attention to their unity and strength across facilities. For Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day, they held sticker days to amplify their shared demand of safe staffing and quality care for patients.

Nurses from all capital-region facilities also attended NYSNA’s March 5 Lobby Day to speak to lawmakers about improving patient care. A week later, Ellis Medicine nurses recruited Assembly Member Angelo Santabarbara to engage in community outreach by asking local Schenectady businesses to place “Invest in Safe Patient Care” signs in their windows. 

Capital-region nurses are uniting like never before to build nurse power and recruit community and political support to hold hospitals accountable for quality care in their communities. They are supporting one another to take on some of New York’s largest health care employers in an inspiring show of unity to stop cuts to health care and win fair contracts that honor their patients and profession.