January 24, 2022

Agreement addresses chronic pay, staffing issues at Long Island hospital

Author: Liza Frenette
Source:   NYSUT Communications

Members of Brookhaven Memorial Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals on Long Island have been overworked and understaffed for two years fighting COVID-19, but they have overwhelmingly ratified a three-year contract to boost pay and address staffing problems.

It includes 3 percent salary raises each year and a special recognition bonus for members who have remained working at the hospital throughout the pandemic.

The contract agreement for professional staff at Long Island Community Hospital — which changed its name from Brookhaven Memorial four years ago — includes monetary increases in longevity, call pay and tuition reimbursement. It provides ongoing opportunities for the union to address staffing issues and a commitment to comply with the New York state Safe Staffing Law, enacted last June after a years-long struggle.

Just this past week, Brookhaven Memorial FNHP President Cynthia Lacey said she received texts from members who are still working extended shifts, and others who raised concerns over the number of patients they were responsible for.

“Nurses who are out due to COVID has been a big factor,” Lacey said, adding that nurses who test positive but have no symptoms are still required to go to work.

Respiratory therapists and lab workers are also working mandatory overtime, and nurse practitioners and physician assistants “have been pushed to the limit,” Lacey said.

“And then there’s the emotional aftermath,” she added. She sees her members falling apart.

“Recently, many members have themselves tested positive resulting in challenging staffing issues as well as obviously being concerned over the health of their union brothers and sisters. Union officers are constantly advocating with hospital administration over staffing issues and health and safety protocol,” said Mike Krauthamer, NYSUT labor relations specialist.

“It is hard to describe the impact that the pandemic has had on these members,” he said. “Their lives have been turned upside down.”

The hospital has suffered significant staffing issues for years, even prior to COVID, but it has been greatly magnified during the pandemic.

“Throughout the pandemic and particularly during the surges, the lack of staff has resulted in members consistently working extra shifts, often in areas of the hospital they are not typically assigned, and have had to deal with mandated overtime during periods that New York state is under a state of emergency,” Krauthamer said.

The 538-member unit predominantly comprises nurses working in all capacities, but also includes many other health care professional titles including respiratory therapists, homecare and hospice workers, social workers, pharmacy workers, nurse practitioners, lab technologists, care managers and others.

In the midst of all this the union was able to negotiate the new three-year contract that addresses these issues. The parties also agreed to participate in Labor-Management training sessions conducted by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.