Staten Island University Hospital won’t say how it’s preparing if north campus nurses strike

Correction: This story has been updated throughout to clarify that only nurses at Staten Island University Hospital’s north campus are considering a strike. The hospital’s south campus would not be affected. It’s also been updated to add information about FDNY plans for rerouting patients if necessary and to say the parties returned to negotiations on Friday.

More than 1,300 nurses at Staten Island University Hospital’s north campus are threatening to strike at 7 a.m. on Tuesday if hospital leaders don’t meet their demands for increased pay and staffing.

The New York State Nurses Association, the union representing nurses at the facility, issued an official strike notice last week. A walkout could still be avoided if a deal is reached, but nurses said they were still far from one.

They hadn’t initially expected to return to the negotiating table on Friday, but the parties eventually met in the afternoon to continue talks.

Nurses at Staten Island University Hospital’s south campus are represented by a different union, the Federation of Nurses/UFT, and did not plan to join the strike.

A spokesperson for Northwell Health, which runs the hospital, said it would be “fully operational” in the event of a strike. She declined to offer details on how the hospital is preparing to keep patients safe.

“We will be commenting on plans when and if there is a strike,” Barbara Osborn, the spokesperson, said late Thursday.

If nurses strike on Tuesday, the city’s fire department will reroute patients from Staten Island University Hospital’s north campus about 30 minutes away to the hospital’s south campus, or 20 minutes away to Richmond University Medical Center, said FDNY spokesperson Jim Long.

“We recognize the effect that a nurse strike would have on health care in Staten Island, and we are actively planning for different scenarios to minimize any impact to the Staten Island community and ensure that the people of Staten Island continue to receive care,” Long said in a statement.

Alexander Lutz, a spokesperson for Richmond University Medical Center, said on Friday that Richmond is prepared to take on more patients if necessary.

“We have been speaking with SIUH so everyone is prepared if there is a strike or not,” he said, declining to offer additional details.

By comparison, Mount Sinai Hospital and Montefiore Medical Center provided far more detailed information on their plans to maintain operations ahead of a historic strike in January 2023, where over 7,000 NYSNA nurses walked off the job. Both hospitals announced they would postpone some elective surgeries if a strike happened. They also transferred or discharged some patients before the walkout, and the city made preparations to divert ambulances to other hospitals.

Some staff at Montefiore and Mount Sinai during last year’s strike described a struggle to maintain adequate patient care as unionized nurses picketed, despite the hospitals’ planning efforts. Gothamist reported the death of a newborn in Mount Sinai’s neonatal intensive care unit during the strike.

The nurses ultimately won major raises, more staffing and contract language around nurse-to-patient ratios they said were crucial to long-term patient safety.

Late last summer, 1,700 nurses at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey, also went on strike. They returned to work in December with a new contract promising better staffing levels.

As of Friday, nurses and hospital leaders at Staten Island University Hospital’s north campus remained “really far apart” on both pay and staffing, said Elaine Minew, a labor and delivery nurse at the hospital who has been involved in negotiations.

Nurses at the hospital’s north campus said they’re demanding a pay bump that will put their salaries on par with comparable hospitals. They said this would help prevent nurses from leaving the hospital for higher-paid jobs outside of Staten Island.

According to NYSNA, the starting salary for the nurses it represents at Staten Island University Hospital is about 12% lower than the average pay for comparable hospitals in the city, including Richmond University Medical Center. The union did not respond to a request for more details on current salaries or which other hospitals the union was comparing them to.

The nurses want increased staffing in specific units that are struggling, Minew said, but are “worlds apart” with hospital negotiators.

“We haven’t really been able to find a middle ground that’s going to give us the safe staffing that we need to provide the care to our patients that they deserve,” she said.

Minew added that the union is focused on trying to boost staffing in units with very sick patients, including a medical/surgical unit, an oncology unit and a telemetry unit where cardiac patients are monitored.

“We don’t think we’re being unreasonable and we’re trying to help units that have come to us and have come to negotiations and let us know that they’re drowning,” she said.

Adriana DeLeone, a nurse on the medical/surgical unit, said she’s only worked there for two years but is one of the most senior nurses in the unit. “Nurses are just leaving because they can’t work under these conditions,” she said.

Northwell did not immediately respond to nurses’ claims about understaffing and pay on Friday.

As the strike date approaches, the nurses are gaining public support from labor and elected officials. Nearly 30 local unions wrote a letter to Northwell on Wednesday expressing solidarity with the nurses.

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