October 18, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Nurses defining the true “crisis” in healthcare as short-staffing, dwindling resources and increased privatization, got a boost from mayoral front-runner Bill de Blasio on Thursday when the Democratic candidate reiterated his dual commitment to both keeping hospitals open, and hammering out a fair contract for municipal employees. Watch Video
“I have a penchant for these wild, crazy ideas,” an energized de Blasio told a rally of New York State Nurses Association [NYSNA] members outside City Hall. “I actually issued a plan that said the city government and the state government need to have a plan to keep hospitals open. You can’t look the other way, while people are losing healthcare, while communities are losing healthcare, and call it government.”
That sort of philosophy is music to the ears of hard-pressed nurses working both inside and outside the NYC Health and Hospital Corporation system who see continuing cutbacks as a direct and imminent threat to the welfare of their patients.
“For-profit companies are circling around like vultures,” NYSNA’s Marva Wade said.
The longtime RN and NYSNA official, ripped outgoing Mayor Mike Bloomberg and his investment banking buddies on Wall Street for treating indispensable healthcare as an untapped source of lucrative profit.
“That’s why mergers and acquisitions of healthcare companies are so popular among big business,” Wade said. “Unfortunately, some legislators agree. They think they can close our hospitals, hand them off to private companies and explain it as, ‘market forces at work.’ Well, that’s code for, ‘We’re being ripped off.’”
Seth Dressekie, a U.S. Army veteran with two tours of duty to his credit, as well as 24 years as an RN, said that he and his colleagues are now engaged in a “different battle.”
“They say the system is in crisis and we can’t do anything about it,” Dressekie said. “What does that even mean? The crisis is this: We are doing hard work for little pay and no respect. The crisis is we do not have safe staffing. The crisis is that it is hard to work with strapped resources.”
Upset nurses say that the situation has grown dire throughout New York City’s network of hospitals. Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in Brooklyn, where the nurse to patient ratio in the Psychiatric Unit is reportedly as high as 1 to 12, is just one example.
“Understaffing is really the number one problem right now,” Psych Unit Nurse Salina Flores told LaborPress. “Once you have understaffing, that means there’s a lack of care being given to the patients. You have to give quality care in a certain amount of time. And if there’s not enough nurses, you’re putting the patients’ lives in danger.”
According to Gwen Lancaster, an RN at Manhattan’s St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, and a member of the NYSNA Board of Directors, the under-staffing occurring at her hospital is both dubious and dangerous.
“In St. Luke’s there are three units that are closed,” Lancaster said. “And they’re telling people that our census has dropped by 40 percent. But it’s an artificial thing. They have patients in the emergency room that need those beds, but they’re not staffing those units.”
Candidate de Blasio told NYSNA nurses that he is “clear about the heroism that is part of your everyday work.”
“I know that you are asked to do incredibly difficult things on a daily basis,” the mayoral hopeful said. “I know that it’s often with a lack of resources, without cooperation and yet you fight through it because you care about the people you serve.”
Jalisa Saud, an RN at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, is still at the beginning of her nursing career, but says that the concerns of hardworking nurses are not being heard.
“We need more of a voice when it comes to making decisions about our patients, and maybe even hospital spending to better utilize the nurses that we have,” Saud said.
Veteran RN and NYSNA official Anne Bové, expressed some skepticism about de Blasio’s ability as mayor to bring about the kinds of improvements nurses are clamoring for – but also hope that working together with a more progressive City Council, significant change may be possible.
“So, now that we have a mayor working with the council, I do have hope that we have a very positive future,” Bové said.