‘Not about the money’: Striking NYC nurse stresses safety

[CUOMO]

(NewsNation) — Carol McGowan came to America from Scotland 30 years ago to be a nurse at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital, which was facing a staffing shortage. Today, she feels like she’s right back at square one.

McGowan is one of thousands of New York City nurses who have been striking for the past two days in a dispute over wages and staffing levels at two hospitals, Mount Sinai and Montefiore Medical Center. The New York State Nurses Association union says chronic understaffing is forcing nurses to care for too many patients, putting everyone at risk.

In recent negotiations, Mount Sinai offered a 19% pay raise for its 3,600 nurses over three years, but the union said the hospital failed to address staffing shortages, NewsNation affiliate WPIX reported. The hospital has resorted to using travel nurses to fill shifts while full-time employees stand in picket lines.

A travel nurse is a contract employee who, as the name suggests, typically works at one facility for a short period of time before moving to another. They were great during the COVID-19 pandemic, McGowan said, but now many remain at the hospitals and are earning higher wages than the full-time employees.

“I can’t make any sense of it,” McGowan said. “Let the nurses who are in Mount Sinai train these new recruits, and it will make a better hospital, a better area for the nurses to work in, for the patients to be in. I can’t understand why (the hospital) can’t see that.”

Montefiore also offered its nurses a 19% pay raise plus 170 new nursing positions, WPIX reported, but was also rebuffed by the union.

Staff levels is a sticking point for McGowan.

“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.”

McGowan works in the ICU, where she says the current ratio is about one nurse for every three patients.

“We can’t go on like this … it’s taken it’s toll on us,” she said.

Mount Sinai’s administration has said that the union’s focus on staffing-to-patient 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.”

Being on the picket lines has been a conflicting experience for McGowan. On one hand, she’s going to bat for her colleagues, but on the other, she feels like she’s “abandoning” the people who depend on her.

After working for 45 years, she could just walk away. But she refuses.

“I’m not going to retire until we get this fight done and we get what we want and what we deserve,” McGowan said. “I don’t want to be out on Madison Avenue. I want to be inside in my building, looking after my patients.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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