Sinai Slammed With More Than $2 Million In Penalties For Chronic Nurse Understaffing

February 20, 2024

Within two weeks, New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) nurses won arbitration awards at three Mount Sinai Health facilities — Mount Sinai Morningside, Mount Sinai West, and Mount Sinai Hospital.

The awards that management was ordered to pay to nurses for working understaffed shifts amounted to nearly $934,000 in the Morningside Emergency Department (ED), more than $957,000 in the Sinai West labor and delivery unit, and more than $240,000 in the Mount Sinai Hospital 11 C oncology unit.

For nurses in the Morningside ED, this is their second award for understaffing. The hospital was first cited on June 9, 2023, for understaffing. In the Feb. 2, 2024, ruling, the arbitrator found persistent understaffing on both day and night shifts that had not improved over the previous six months. In fact, only five full-time nurses were hired during that period. In addition to the financial remedy, the arbitrator ordered Morningside management to hire up to the 94 FTEs required, provide break relief, and pay the overtime incentives owed to nurses during the next pay period. 

“This process showed me there is power in nurses coming together to stand up for our patients. I hope this is the beginning of some real lasting change for our hospital and our profession.  I don’t want to give up on nursing, and while I’m here, I am committed to do everything I can to try to make it better for our patients and for the next generation of nurses,” said Maria Colón, RN, at Mount Sinai Morningside ED.

On Feb. 11, an arbitrator found there to be persistent and continuous understaffing on both day and night shifts of Mount Sinai West’s labor and delivery unit and rejected Mount Sinai’s attempt to blame the poor staffing on sick calls or personal leaves. He ordered Mount Sinai to cease and desist, hire enough nurses to comply with the union contract, assign enough RNs, adopt and provide break relief measures to allow for full meal and break periods free from patient assignments on all shifts, and pay make whole relief to RNs who worked the understaffed shifts, totaling $957,050.47.

On Jan. 25, an arbitrator found persistent staffing violations and awarded over $240K to nurses in Mount Sinai Hospital’s oncology unit. The arbitrator specifically rejected the employer’s arguments that sick calls are to blame for short staffing and that nurses were inflating the numbers of understaffing.  He found Mount Sinai’s efforts to recruit more nurses to address understaffing lacking.

Overall, this is the eighth time arbitrators have ruled against Mount Sinai Health System for understaffing and ordered remedies, including hiring more nurses, providing break relief nurses to meet safe staffing standards, and paying financial penalties since nurses won this provision in their union contract in January 2023. Nurse understaffing puts patient safety at risk, as well as the health and safety of nurses. One of the Morningside nurses who testified before the arbitrator detailed how she had been assaulted three weeks in a row by different patients and attributed the increase in workplace violence to the overcrowded and understaffed conditions in the ED.

While one of New York’s wealthiest healthcare systems continues racking up financial penalties for understaffing, New York City’s public health system, NYC Health+Hospitals/Mayorals (H+H) is demonstrating that it is possible to hire and retain enough nurses for safe patient care. Since settling a contract with NYSNA in late July 2023, NYC H+H has gained 600 new nurses through hiring and improved retention. Permanent nurse staffing has almost completely rebounded back to pre-COVID-19 levels after a period of overreliance on expensive temporary travel agency nurses. In late January, the public hospital system created over 200 new positions for wound care and float pool nurses with NYSNA to fill staffing gaps and improve quality care. Additionally, in a recent systemwide staffing committee meeting with NYSNA, NYC H+H management transparently reviewed all remaining vacancies and pledged to fill them via a joint hiring plan.

NYSNA Executive Director Pat Kane, RN, said: “To echo one of the arbitrators in these recent decisions, ‘The numbers do not lie.’ When NYSNA members track and present the real-time staffing numbers, it’s clear that hospitals are understaffing nurses and putting nurse and patient safety at risk. The end goal of our nurses is not to win more money to work in unsafe conditions; it’s to win safe staffing and improve patient care. Hospital administrators must do better — and we know they can afford to do better. Healthcare workers and patients also need strong enforcement from the New York State Department of Health to protect quality care and hold hospitals accountable to our state’s hospital staffing committee law.

“It’s a great feeling to have won, and to show that we won’t just be quiet, that we’re going to continue fighting until they do the right thing. But it’s also frustrating to have to fight so hard for Mount Sinai to do what they already agreed to when they signed our contract,” said Sheryl Ostroff, RN, ED nurse of 21 years at Mount Sinai Morningside. “I’ve had nurses calling me in tears because they had to walk by a patient they haven’t seen in two hours. They feel like they let themselves and their patients down, when it is the hospital that has let us down. We hope this decision will finally force Mount Sinai to provide us with the staffing levels nurses and our patients deserve.”

The New York State Nurses Association represents more than 42,000 members in New York State. We are New York’s largest union and professional association for registered nurses. NYSNA is an affiliate of National Nurses United, AFL-CIO, the country’s largest and fastest-growing union and professional association of registered nurses, with more than 225,000 members nationwide.

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One Comment

  1. NYSNA so proud to be a retired member.
    Lord if this feature were in our contract in NYP CHONY, I would have not retired early, however after 35 years of no breaks , mandatory OT, and doing practically the minimum for our patients and families,, I had no choice. but to leave.
    Pizza and coke did not do it anymore!!

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