Lenox Hill Nurses Negotiating for New Contract
October 22, 2012
By Marc Bussanich
At a membership meeting last week, the 1,000 nurses of the New York Professional Nurses Union working at Lenox Hill Hospital voted overwhelmingly to grant the union’s negotiating committee the authorization to issue a strike notice to management should negotiations falter before the contract expires on October 31.
Kathleen Flynn, a vice president and negotiating committee member of the NYPNU, said that Lenox Hill Hospital’s management is seeking a wide range of changes to the current contract.
“They entered negotiations with a list of 46 proposals that essentially amount to a gutting of the contract. They want to eliminate language around floating, mandatory overtime, non-nursing functions and they want nurses to contribute up to $300 per month for healthcare premiums,” said Flynn.
NYPNU has been negotiating contracts with Lenox Hill since 1984, but this is the first round of negotiations with North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, which acquired Lenox Hill in March 2010. According to Flynn, North Shore-LIJ is a huge corporation (the third largest non-profit employer in New York) that operates several hospitals on Long Island. It acquired Lenox Hill because it wanted to establish a toehold in Manhattan. But the problem, which is a big source of contention in the current negotiations, is that North Shore is trying to impose Long Island benefits on Manhattan nurses.
“That’s a major issue for Lenox Hill nurses because there’s a difference in pay and in benefits, and we’re not going to be able to retain the nurses we currently have or attract new nurses if we settle for Long Island provisions,” Flynn said.
The current contract includes a clause that states that the hospital cannot require nurses to work mandatory overtime except in emergencies. That issue was one of several that led the nurses to strike back in 1988, the last time Lenox Hill nurses have struck.
“We’ve lived successfully with that language since 1988. Management can’t just on a whim say they need someone to work past their regular shift to cover for someone else. We want to ensure this doesn’t happen,” noted Flynn.
The majority of the nurses work flexible schedules, typically three days of 11 ½ hour shifts, which Flynn said is very important to nurses, but management wants to eliminate that guarantee. In addition, management wants to impose duties on the nurses that ignore vital hands-on patient care, such as performing housekeeping and clerical tasks. The nurses have 22 proposals of their own, including improvements in nurse-to-patient ratios in certain departments and increases in employer contributions to the nurses’ pensions.
“We’re looking to increase the number of nurses in areas such as oncology and late-term delivery because there just isn’t enough nurses in those departments. And we’re proposing North Shore to increase their pension contributions to match the contributions they give to other nurses in their network,” Flynn said.
North Shore has a history of acquiring financially-strapped hospitals, according to Flynn. She mentioned that North Shore, in its haste to expand its network, underestimated the market in Manhattan when it acquired Lenox Hill, which was having financial difficulties before the acquisition. Although North Shore’s other hospitals in Long Island are profitable, Lenox Hill has to yet to return to profitability even after the acquisition.
Part of Lenox Hill’s prior and ongoing financial troubles stem from the lack of clout it could exert as a standalone hospital when negotiating reimbursement rates from healthcare insurers. Flynn said that Lenox Hill could command only $2,000 per Caesarean section, while North Shore’s hospitals are typically reimbursed $6,000 or $7,000 for the procedure. But even with Lenox Hill now receiving higher reimbursements, it is still in the red.
As a result, doctors are bolting Lenox Hill for new opportunities at Mount Sinai Hospital and Columbia University Medical Center.
“They [North Shore] didn’t realize that taking over a Manhattan hospital is not the same as acquiring a Long Island or Staten Island hospital,” Flynn said.
Flynn noted that the nurses resume contract negotiations with North Shore on Monday, October 22.