(NewsNation) — Thousands of nurses are preparing to potentially strike across the tri-state area, as hospitals are preparing for another influx in ‘tripledemic’: the flu, RSV and COVID-19 cases following the holidays.
The New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), which represents 12 private sector hospitals in New York City, said that the labor action may be necessary because hospitals have stretched nurses’ ranks so thin that it’s endangering patients’ health and safety.
At least 17,000 NYSNA members voted overwhelmingly to strike if hospitals can’t agree to a contract by Dec. 31. After that, the nurses are required to give a 10-day notice before walking out. This suggests nurses could hit the picket line as soon as Jan. 11.
Melissa Perleoni, a registered nurse at Mount Sinai, is one of 14,000 nurses citywide who voted to strike.
“This is the only time the hospital will listen,” she said, while outside of Mount Sinai.
Perleoni said that a variety of issues prompted her and 99% of her fellow nurses to authorize a strike. One major issue, she said, “They want to cut our health care benefits. Can you believe that?”
NYSNA said the hospitals are trying to cut back their health care benefits. In addition, the association said that the nurse-to-patient ratio has become dangerously imbalanced.
Perleoni said that over the three years of the pandemic, many nurses have burned out and left the profession without being replaced. NYSNA is calling for more hiring of nurses and better pay and work conditions for its members.
“The only way we’re going to retain nurses is by having proper patient-nurse ratios, by having proper medical coverage, excellent medical coverage and good wages,” said Nancy Hagans, the president of NYSNA, and registered nurse.
The strike authorization vote is complete at some of the largest hospitals in the Tri-State area: BronxCare, Montefiore, Mount Sinai, NewYork-Presbyterian, and Richmond University Medical Center.
At those medical institutions, nearly 99% of nurses have authorized a strike, according to NYSNA figures.
NYSNA statement, saying, “We don’t take striking lightly. Striking is always a last resort, but we are prepared to Strike if our bosses give us no other option. Nurses have been to hell and back, risking our lives to save our patients throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic, sometimes without the PPE we needed to keep ourselves safe, and too often without enough staff for safe patient care.”
Meanwhile, hospitals say that care won’t be compromised if there is a strike and that they’re negotiating in good faith to prevent one from happening. However, if a strike does take place, they plan to activate their surge plans to care for incoming patients.
Some Mount Sinai patients told NewsNation affiliate WPIX that they were sympathetic to the nurses’ cause, even though it may affect patients’ care.
“It’s their money, it’s their paycheck,” said one woman, who declined to give her name. “They have families to take care of.”
Other patients, while generally supportive of the nurses, also expressed some concern.
“People have different occupations that can be hectic, and this is one of them, but they still have an obligation to assist people in their time of need in a health crisis,” said Jerome Keitt, as he headed into the hospital for an appointment.
This comes as medical experts are preparing for another wave of tripledmeic cases. New York saw its fifth child flu death this season on Tuesday.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul say they’re monitoring negotiations.
NewsNation affiliate WPIX contributed to this report.