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Lenox Hill Hospital Nurses Vote to Strike If Demands Not Met

By Amy Zimmer | October 18, 2012 7:33am

MANHATTAN — Nurses at the prestigious Lenox Hill Hospital voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to go on strike as early as Nov. 1 if their contract negotiations with the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System fail to meet their demands

The contract for the New York Professional Nurses Union — which represents roughly 1,100 workers at the Upper East Side hospital bought by North Shore-LIJ in 2010 — expires Oct. 31.

The nurses claim that North Shore-LIJ's proposed changes would hurt patient care, but the hospital says the nurses' demands would damage the health-care network's bottom line.

The hospital network's desire to eliminate its current clause against mandatory overtime, for instance, could cause staff to burn out, nurses fear. Ending their current protections against placing nurses in departments outside of their fields of expertise would also be detrimental, they say.

On top of that, the giant health-care network would effectively reduce the nurses' compensation, including health and other benefits, by as much as 6 percent for the average nurse — even though North Shore-LIJ would give the nurses raises over the next three years (1.25 percent, 1 percent and 1.25 percent, respectively).

“If North Shore-LIJ wants Lenox Hill to compete with elite Manhattan hospitals, they need to raise standards, not lower them,” Kathleen Flynn, a nurse and NYPNU’s vice president, said in a statement.

The proposals presently on the table would hurt the hospital’s ability to attract and retain nurses, and, in turn, could damage the hospital’s ability to attract and retain patients, who have other world-class hospitals to choose from just blocks away, the NYPNU said.

Hospital officials, however, claimed that the union’s proposals would cost Lenox Hill more than $42 million, according to a negotiation update on the institution’s website.

“The hospital is working to regain its financial stability despite a challenging economic environment and significant external financial pressures,” officials said in the update.

They claimed that the hospital is facing pressure from the government and commercial insurers, which are paying less for services while costs continue to rise.

The nurses’ union rejected the notion that North Shore-LIJ was suffering financially.

The system had $6.3 billion in revenue and more than $134 million in profits last year, nurses said. Furthermore, CEO Michael Dowling was paid nearly $3 million in 2010 — a 70-percent raise from 2007, the NYPNU said.

The NYPNU last went on strike in 1988, but members have voted for strike authorizations (the ability to call for a strike if needed) during nearly every contract negotiation since, said Maureen McCarthy, a nurse at the hospital since the 1970s and president of the NYPNU.

“The last thing Lenox Hill nurses want to do is go on strike. We are the ones who work night and day to provide the incredible care that Lenox Hill is known for,” McCarthy said in a statement.

“But we will do whatever it takes to protect our patients and save Lenox Hill from North Shore’s dangerous proposals,” she added. “Patient safety should not be sacrificed for North Shore’s profits.”

National Nurses United, which is the largest union and professional association of RNs in the country with 185,000 members, and the New York State Nurses Association, issued statements supporting the Lenox Hill workers, saying North Shore LIJ's proposals could have wider, negative effects on nurses' abilities to deliver quality care.

"New York's patients can't afford to let that model spread to other hospitals," said Nancy Kaleda, NYSNA deputy director, "and nurses are determined to stop this dangerous move."

The hospital said it was prepared in the event of a strike.

“We are committed to bargaining in good faith with NYPNU to reach a new contract that is fair for our nurses,” officials said in the update. “However, if the union decides to take our nurses out on strike, we have a contingency plan that will allow the hospital to stay open and continue to serve our community.”