St. Catherine nurses take contract dispute to street

St. Catherine nurses take contract dispute to street

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St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center nurses picket Thursday on behalf of patient care through safe staffing as they negotiate a new contract with the hospital. Photo by Alex Petroski

Smithtown residents driving on Route 25A Thursday afternoon likely couldn’t miss the lively, noisy demonstration by countless picketers all dressed in red.

More than 100 nurses from St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown gathered on the grounds just outside of the Route 25A entrance to the hospital on Thursday for an informational picket and as a sign of solidarity in their ongoing contractual negotiations. Their previous contract expired in March 2015. Nurses at St. Catherine’s are members of the New York State Nurses Association.

“St. Catherine nurses have worked without a contract for a year, during which time the problem of understaffing has become a crisis,” an April 20 press release announcing the demonstration said. “The nurses are calling for a fair contract, including enforceable staffing ratios and quality protections for patients.”

Lorraine Incarnato, a nurse in St. Catherine’s intensive care unit for nearly 30 years, said the two parties have been meeting only once a month since November. Several nurses at the demonstration said they don’t think St. Catherine’s administration is negotiating in good faith, though Heather Reynolds from the hospital’s public and external affairs department refuted that assessment in an email Friday.

“St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center is in negotiations with the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA),” Reynolds said. “The hospital continues to negotiate in good faith and has made progress in the negotiations. St. Catherine will negotiate directly with NYSNA.”

Incarnato shed some light on the goal of Thursday’s demonstration.

“The mission today is, we’re trying to show the hospital that they need to settle with the nurses,” Incarnato said. “The contract has been negotiated for a year, but since November, they’ve only been meeting once a month. We need staffing ratios that are better adhered to because too many times, we’re very short-staffed, and the mantra in the building right now is ‘do more with less.’”

Incarnato said the ICU needs six nurses to be run effectively, though these days they often have to make do with five, or even four, during a given shift.

“It’s causing a lot of friction between administration and staff,” Incarnato said. “When you have staff working always short [staffed], always extra, and then knowing that there’s not the respect factor there, they’re unhappy. Unhappy staff doesn’t keep patients happy. We try to put on a really happy face, because the patients come first.”

Dawn Bailey, a registered nurse and labor bargaining unit executive committee member of the New York State Nurses Association, said working a shift without adequate staff can be dangerous not only for patients, but for nurses as well.

“You can’t have two people lifting a patient all the time because there’s not that other person available,” Bailey said. “When people are going out with back injuries, then [members of hospital administration] wonder why.”

Other than staffing concerns, the nurses are also unhappy about changes and cutbacks to health care and other benefits.

A similar demonstration occurred on April 8 near St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, where nurses also represented by the New York State Nurses Association tried to voice the same message.