(NewsNation) — After three days of shouting in a picket line on Madison Avenue in New York City, Carol McGowan finally gets to return to the place she wanted to be throughout it all: inside Mount Sinai Hospital.
McGowan is one of thousands of New York City nurses who had been striking since Monday in a dispute over wages and staffing levels at two hospitals, Mount Sinai and Montefiore Medical Center. The New York State Nurses Association union said chronic understaffing is forcing nurses to care for too many patients, putting everyone at risk.
Some 7,000 nurses ended the strike Thursday after reaching a tentative agreement with hospitals that will boost pay and staffing levels. The agreement must still be ratified.
“We are glad to be back taking care of you,” McGowan said Thursday on “CUOMO.” “This is what we do. This is what we love.”
McGowan came to America from Scotland 30 years ago to work at at Mount Sinai, recruited during a staffing shortage. She told NewsNation earlier this week the present-day situation had her feeling like she was back at square one.
“This is not about the money, this is about safe staffing,” she said. “Giving the patients what they deserve, having a nurse at their bedside who will take care of them if they’re dying or who will be there to shake their hand or give them a hug. We can’t do that right now — we’re stretched too thin.”
The nurses’ union in negotiations was seeking commitments on improved staffing levels, and was particularly focused on the nurse-to-patient ratio.
Mount Sinai’s administration had said the focus on ratios “ignores the progress we have made to attract and hire more new nurses, despite a global shortage of healthcare workers that is impacting hospitals across the country.”
The new contract agreement includes a 19% wage increase for nurses, more than 170 new nursing positions, fully paid benefits and more resources dedicated to recruitment and retention.
“We have what we wanted from the hospital,” McGowan said Thursday. “The good thing now is that you’re going to have the nurses back in the hospital, and they’re going to be there to help you.”
Several other private hospitals around the city reached deals with the union as the strike deadline loomed. The agreements included raises totaling 19% over three years.
What the striking nurses, achieved, McGown argued, will be critical for other nurses around the country who are bargaining for new contracts.
“We’ve set a precedent now for staff issues that come on the table and be addressed,” she said.
Being on the picket lines was a conflicting experience for McGowan. On one hand, she was going to bat for her colleagues, but on the other, she said she felt like she was “abandoning” the people who depend on her.
After 45 years of working as a nurse, McGowan could have just called it a career and walked away, but she wanted to fight alongside her fellow nurses.
Now that a deal has been struck, home is calling her name a little bit louder.
“Now I can retire happily,” McGowan joked. “I don’t know. I might buy a house in Scotland.”