A group of nurses rallied outside Park Slope’s Methodist Hospital on Feb. 23 in support of the ‘Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act‘ legislation being debated in Albany, which is designed to increase staffing at hospitals and nursing homes — saying the lack of resources has led to dangerous working condition and porous health outcomes for low-income New Yorkers.
“It is imperative that the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act is passed, because every patient who enters our facilities should receive the absolute best quality care despite their financial situation,” said Irving Campbell, a registered nurse at the Park Slope hospital.
Touting signs that read “Safe RN Staffing Saves Lives” the medical workers said the lack of staffing has been a problem since before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the virus has only exasperated the need to hire more workers — as many medical workers have retired or resigned, leaving the understaffed team stretched dangerously thin.
“Methodist Hospital has lost over 100 nurses, while only hiring 16 since August,” Campbell lamented. “This at a time when our nurses here are doing the best with so little. And what do we get for the tireless work we do? We get a closure of the pediatric and psychiatric units, we get an ER that has been decimated by resignations and retirement due to poor working conditions.”
Closure of mental health facilities at Methodist
Campbell bemoaned that the hospital had closed two psychiatric facilities during the height of the pandemic, saying the lack of dedicated resources and staff directed toward mental health treatment forces those patients to spill into other hospital areas.
“Our [emergency department] is holding mental health patients for an extended period of time because our psych units remain closed, and other [NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital] psych units have reached capacity to the point where we’re now sending them to neighboring hospitals outside the NYP system,” Campbell said.
Adding to their claims, Attorney General Letitia James recently released a report correlating staffing and positive patient outcomes, adding that unsafe staffing numbers were significant factors in the causality of the high death tolls within nursing homes throughout the state.
“This is the worst I’ve seen it in 20 years working at Methodist. As hard as nurses work and as much as we care, we cannot meet a safe standard of care if our administration refuses to staff enough qualified, trained nurses in every unit of the hospital,” said Diane Bonet, a pediatric nurse.
‘Patients Before Profits’
Bonet added that her pediatric unit was converted into a makeshift COVID-19 treatment facility, forcing her into work she was not trained for — and accused the hospital administration of using the pandemic as an excuse to shut down units they deemed less profitable, despite only having a handful of patients infected with the virus.
“They use the pandemic as an excuse to throw nurses into new specialties without the necessary training. They used COVID as an excuse to understaff the whole hospital,” she said. “Nurses are professionals with specialty practices. Treating geriatric patients is not the same as treating pediatric patients. When we’ve asked for orientation or training, our [Chief Nursing Officer] has said ‘use your brains.’”
Borough President Eric Adams, Councilmember Brad Lander, Joan Rowley of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and many others joined in rally in support of the legislation, which is currently in committee before a vote by both state legislative chambers.
“When you love what you do, when you’re trained as a patient advocate, you should have a voice in safe patient care. Nurses should be able to make the hospital a better place,” Bonet said. “This should be a partnership where we all have the same goal — to provide safe, quality care to our community.”
New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital reps responded to the rally in a statement without addressing the nurses’ central concerns, simply thanking them for their ‘heroic’ work during the pandemic.
“We greatly value our skilled and dedicated nurses who have done so much for our patients and the community during this pandemic and we will continue to support them,” they said. “Despite unprecedented challenges, our heroic clinical teams continue to provide the safe and exceptional care NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital is known for.”