Nurses at NYU Langone Hospital – Brooklyn are sounding the alarm over levels of understaffing that they say violate the state’s nurse staffing law.

The nurses’ union, the Federation of Nurses/UFT, said that over one week in August it documented more than 30 violations of the staffing plan the hospital agreed to as part of the recently implemented state staffing law.

The hospital’s staffing record could prove to be one of the first cases to test the state Department of Health’s enforcement response as outlined in the staffing legislation, which was first passed in 2021.

“We want enforcement,” Anne Goldman, head of the Federation of Nurses/UFT and a nurse at  the hospital. “We all agree these are the right numbers. They cannot go without consequence. The employer makes money by not staffing. If it’s supposed to be eight nurses, you’re paying for five — who suffers? The patient and the nurse. So what steps can the DOH recommend to be disincentives for the hospital?”

Though the union has recently been able to start filing staffing violations with the state health department under the new law, it says chronic short staffing has existed for years at the hospital. The union has had a contract with fixed staffing levels since 2016. Over the past year and a half it said it documented over 2,000 staffing complaints based on its contract at the facility.

In response to the union’s criticism, the hospital said that it had tried to address the staffing lapses based on its contract in mediation, but the union was not satisfied with the outcome of that process.

Goldman said that in response to grievances, hospital administrators admitted to the union that they can’t meet the staffing levels laid out in the contract, but said that the hospital has encountered problems hiring replacements or temp nurses to plug the gaps.

In response to an inquiry from LaborPress, the hospital contested the union’s staffing figures.

“They are acting irresponsibly by providing an inaccurate portrait of patient care, completely misrepresenting our institution and our valued nurses who provide quality care,” said NYU Langone spokesperson Steve Ritea. “ Their allegation that we are not following existing regulations is patently false.”

The union said that an exceptionally dangerous area that it has documented as being consistently short staffed is the intensive care unit. As part of the hospital staffing law, lawmakers mandated a roughly 1-2 nurse-to-patient ratio in intensive care units across New York.

These critical care nurses monitor everything from internal bleeding to breathing problems and other vital signs in patients that are being treated for life-threatening injuries.

“If we miss the moment, the damage to you is not reversible. So it’s serious stuff,” said Goldman.

The union filed reports that the hospital’s ICU failed to meet the state-mandated 1-2 ratio on four out of six days in early June, it said. Though the ICU unit ratio regulation wasn’t formally adopted until the end of June, the union shared multiple formal complaints from critical care nurses from the months of July and August about continued levels of understaffing.

Goldman said that she’s optimistic that the health department will step in to broker a solution between the hospital and its nurses. So far, the union has set up meetings with the agency to discuss the problem. Under the state law, hospitals that violate their staffing standards and fail to submit or implement corrective action plans face penalties of up to $2,000 for each violation, with penalties increasing for repeated violations.

Goldman said that the DOH has expressed interest in investigating the complaints “so we can hopefully move forward in evaluating or coming up with enforcement for these contracts, which was the intent of this law.”


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