Some employees at a local hospital are tired of tightening their belts.
Approximately 75 Stony Brook University Hospital nurses and EMS workers represented by the New York State Public Employees Federation held an informational picket and press conference May 16. The goal was to inform the community about a severe long-term shortage of health care workers at the hospital, high medical staff turnover and pay inequity.
Before the rally, PEF President Wayne Spence said the organization represents more than 2,000 nurses and EMS workers at SBU hospital.
“My members have been very patient in trying to get parity or close to parity with surrounding hospitals,” Spence said.
He said the hospital is a level-one trauma center transporting patients from hospitals where staff members make more than the average SBU worker. Nurses at St. Charles Hospital make at least $3,500 more per year, Southside Hospital in Bay Shore about $9,500 and Huntington roughly $11,000 more, according to Spence.
Even with state benefits, Spence said SBU health care workers’ compensation isn’t equal to surrounding private hospitals. According to the federation president, other institutions compensate employees to go back to school to achieve higher degrees and offer certain days off around holidays. A Stony Brook nurse can work three to five years without having off Christmas Day, he said. Spence said many rely on working overtime to make up the difference in salary and at times they are not able to break for meals, adding that medical staff working without a break can lead to crucial errors, such as making a mistake in medicine dosage. Many long-term employees are asking themselves why they are staying with Stony Brook.
“There was once a time where you stayed with the state system for the state pension,” Spence said. “But guess what? Northwell and other unions have now offered comparable compensation and fringe benefits that can now be comparable to the state. So, the state is not competing anymore.”
“Stony Brook hospital has always been a leader in cutting-edge medicine and research. It is time that it becomes a leader in staff recruitment and retention.”
— Anna Maria Amicucci
Paramedic Jason Schmidt said he independently compared paramedic salaries to other institutions like Northwell Health’s hospitals and found many emergency workers can make as much as $20,000 per year more than SBU workers. While Schmidt said it’s always been known that one can’t get rich working for state institutions, he said with health insurance costs increasing and pay freezes, many of his colleagues are working more than one job. He said he felt it was important for the workers to ban together and picket.
“It’s so frustrating this has been going on for so long,” Schmidt said. “We deserve more.”
Registered Nurse Anna Maria Amicucci said during her 18 years working at SBU she has been through furloughs and hasn’t received a pay increase in four years.
“We’re picketing to bring awareness to our state representatives about the gap in compensation between Stony Brook hospital and neighboring, competing institutions,” Amicucci said.
The nurse said she has seen a steady flow of new hires over the last couple of years receive their training at SBU and then leave for other institutions where they have been offered higher pay. Amicucci said in understaffed units the hospital has been paying more overtime to make up for the shortfall.
“Stony Brook hospital has always been a leader in cutting-edge medicine and research,” she said. “It is time that it becomes a leader in staff recruitment and retention. A critical step in achieving that goal is putting its staff at par with our peers.”
Renee Golde, a registered nurse with the hospital for two-and-a-half years, said after working as an ultrasound technician, she went back to college to become a nurse. She said working for Stony Brook hospital is something she always wanted to do, and she wants to stay and bring about change to keep nurses at the institution. She said she hopes the administration will see that the employees want to stay and are just asking to close the salary gap.
“I stay because I love the people I work with,” Golde said. “I love my patients and I love being a Stony Brook nurse.”
Stony Brook released a statement through Kali Chan, director of medicine media relations at Stony Brook Medicine, when asked about the workers’ concerns
“Stony Brook University Hospital is supportive of our nurses, EMTs and paramedics,” Chan wrote. “We work every day to foster a positive work environment where all employees are valued and respected.”