Nurses' Strike Over Health Care Could Affect Yours

nurses hospitals lawsuitHospitals have become the latest enemy of the common man. A few months after 23,000 registered nurses in California staged a one-day strike, they're planning to do it again. And in the coming weeks, 6,000 New York nurses are poised to follow suit. There are rumblings of the same thing in New Jersey and Minnesota.

The complaints are familiar to many American workers: out-of-control executive pay, while rank-and-file workers are forced to make greater sacrifices. Although the union, the New York State Nurses' Association, hasn't yet given the necessary 10-day notice to strike, the nursing staff at three of the city's largest hospitals have voted to authorize one.

While any large-scale strike can inconvenience the people who depend on those services, with a nurse strike that inconvenience is potentially more grave. When nurses strike, a patient has a 20 percent higher chance of dying, according to a recent study of 50 New York nurses' strikes for the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The contracts of nurses at Mount Sinai and Montefiore expired last December. In June, an arbitration decision ruled that nurses would have to pay $25 to $400 a month toward healthcare premiums, when they had previously been covered entirely by their employers. When the changes came into effect in September, some nurses discovered that their prescriptions costs had gone up too.

Executives say the changes are necessary in tight economic times. All hospitals are facing cuts to Medicaid and Medicare, and the Obama Administration's Affordable Care Act links hospital budgets to quality of care for the first time. For example, a hospital will have its funding slashed if too many patients are readmitted within 30 days. Nearly 20 percent of hospitalizations (which eats up one third of the $2 trillion healthcare budget) are readmissions within the same month, and are largely preventable.

Nurses counter that they are being unfairly forced to shoulder this entire burden. "As professionals we don't feel respected," Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, and nurse and union head at Montefiore, told The New York Times. "This corporate model is being shoved down our throat."

Jacklynn Price, president of the bargaining unit for Mt. Sinai Medical Center, referred to hospital bigwigs as "nonprofit oligarchs" in The Times. The hospital's chief executive, Kenneth L. Davis, took home $2.6 million last year, thanks to a $1.2 million bonus. Nurses at Mt. Sinai have a base salary of $75,000, and can be paid $95,000 annually after 20 years, according to The Times.

It's possible that nurses and management will reach a last-minute settlement. But the hospitals are already contracting replacement nurses at double the wages of the usual nursing staff. In September, one cancer patient at an Oakland hospital died after a replacement nurse accidentally put a dietary supplement into his intravenous line, reports theSan Francisco Chronicle.

In other words, New Yorkers: Take care of yourselves this holiday season.

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