Nurse union pickets for higher staffing levels

Nurse union pickets for higher staffing levels

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Nurses and their supporters picket outside St. Charles Hospital on April 8, calling for higher staffing levels and encouraging passing drivers to honk in solidarity. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Members of the New York State Nurses Association had drivers honking their horns near St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson on Friday, as picketers called for increased staffing of nurses.

Between 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on April 8, nurses and supporters marched and chanted outside the hospital to spread awareness of their cause. According to the nurses’ association members, some nurses tend to 10 or more patients and those working in St. Charles’ Intensive Care Unit are exceeding what they call a safe limit of one to two patients per nurse.

Increased staffing would help nurses devote more time to their patients, according to group members, which is better for the patient.

Nurses and their supporters picket outside St. Charles Hospital on April 8, calling for higher staffing levels and encouraging passing drivers to honk in solidarity. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Nurses and their supporters picket outside St. Charles Hospital on April 8, calling for higher staffing levels and encouraging passing drivers to honk in solidarity. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Nancy Joly, the New York State Nurses Association’s deputy director, said the organization has data showing that when ICU nurses have more than two patients “the chances of death are skyrocketed.”

The picketing comes as the St. Charles nurses’ union is negotiating with the hospital on a new contract, after the previous one expired in March 2015.

According to a statement from the hospital, the facility bases staffing guidelines on various factors, including when nurses call in sick, how much nursing care a patient needs, the number of patients who need care and guidelines set in previous union contracts.

Tracy Kosciuk, a St. Charles nurse of 27 years and president of the state nurses’ association’s executive committee for St. Charles nurses, said when they have too many patients, it’s difficult for nurses to give their “100 percent” and care for each patient, including teaching the patient and their family about their health.

“Unfortunately the mentality … nowadays in the industry is [that] all hospitals are short-staffed,” Kosciuk said. “That’s not acceptable to have that mindset.”

But St. Charles said the nurses and the hospital share the same goal of providing their patients with high-quality care. While the group has a right to picket, according to the hospital statement, it would prefer to discuss the nurses’ contract in a formal meeting.

“St. Charles remains committed to negotiating a fair contract … that supports our caregivers and the communities we serve,” the hospital said. “We will continue to negotiate in good faith with the union.”

Nurses and their supporters picket outside St. Charles Hospital on April 8, calling for higher staffing levels and encouraging passing drivers to honk in solidarity. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Nurses and their supporters picket outside St. Charles Hospital on April 8, calling for higher staffing levels and encouraging passing drivers to honk in solidarity. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Stony Brook resident Barbara Cea was among the nurses chanting outside St. Charles and celebrating when drivers honked their horns in solidarity. She has worked at the hospital for the past 32 years.

“They seem to be ignoring our pleas to increase the nurse-to-patient ratio so that we could provide adequate and safe care, which is more and more important,” Cea said. “We have to keep the nurses at the bedside.”

Cea supported the hospital’s statement that it’s trying to establish fair contracts with appropriate staffing guidelines, but said it’s been a slow process.

“Nobody knows when they’re going to end up in the hospital,” Joly said. “A lot of people are worried about their community hospitals being well-staffed. You really need to have good staffing everywhere.”