Union says pay raise for temporary nurses costing New York millions of dollars: ‘It’s a slap in the face’
The high turnover and hiring of so-called traveling nurses at Jacoby Medical Center is likely costing the city tens of millions of dollars a year in additional costs, according to sources at the New York State Nursing Association, which represents hospital staff.
Their statement is based on the hospital’s internal staffing data, which shows that between November 2022 and January 2023, Jacoby hired a total of 146 so-called traveling or “agent” nurses who are technically not permanent members of the hospital’s staff.
According to Krystle Simms-Murphy, who has been a nurse practitioner at Jacobi for 16 years, agency nurses can earn significantly more annual salaries than full-time nurses.
“It’s a slap,” she said. “We train these agency nurses and they come in and make more money than we do.”
Data shared by NYSNA with Daily News amid contract negotiations with the city’s Public Health + Hospitals network also shows the city is spending millions more on traveling nurses than on full-time nurses at other public hospitals. For 10 other city hospitals, these costs could result in hundreds of millions of dollars in additional costs.
“At the most conservative estimate, the city spends between $18.5 million and $24.2 million a year on visiting/agent nurses for Jacobi Hospital alone,” NYSNA spokeswoman Christy Barnes told The News.
Barnes, citing fragmentary city data as well as data published in a hospital industry publication last year, noted that Health + Hospitals has not yet provided NYSNA with a full and official report on how much they spend on traveling nurses, but said that in on average, they earn two to three times more than full-time nurses.
She noted that the union’s assessments were based on all the data currently available to it and called them “conservative”.
The city’s Health + Hospitals network is currently in contract negotiations with NYSNA again and again. The union presented the full proposal to H+H on March 7, Barnes said, and in subsequent negotiations on March 14, the city broke off negotiations in the middle of the day. The next talks are scheduled for April 4th.
The talks came two months after union members went on strike at two of the city’s private hospitals, Mount Sinai in Manhattan and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. The strikes eventually led to contracts, but shook the city’s healthcare infrastructure and proved that NYSNA was willing to go to any lengths for its workers.
The main points of contention with H+H are likely to be pay parity for nurses in public hospitals compared to their private counterparts, as well as nurse staffing levels that the union says are too low.
NYSNA members are expected to testify to city council on Tuesday about the city’s hospital budget.
An H+H spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions.
“Nurses are at the forefront of our healthcare system and we have all witnessed their heroic actions during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are incredibly grateful for the hard work, dedication and sacrifice that our highly trained nurses make every day, and we welcome new opportunities to strengthen our partnership with NYSNA and the nurses who matter so much,” said Kate Smart, spokeswoman for Mayor Adams. .
“The city meets regularly with NYSNA and there are several scheduled meetings in the coming weeks as we work to finalize the new contract.”
Staff nurses at public hospitals are also being fired at an alarming rate, thanks to the higher pay they can take home from private hospitals in the city, Simms-Murphy and Barnes said.
“Health + Hospitals is paying for this training but is losing its investment,” Simms-Murphy said. “We can’t keep nurses.”
Citing internal hospital data, she said that about 250 nurses left Jacobi last year, and that only about 70 of them were retirees. Many of those who left did so because they could demand higher wages elsewhere, she said.
“They tell me they can’t afford to work here,” Simms-Murphy said. “This means that constant care is not enough. This means that the staff does not know our patients. They don’t know the ins and outs of the hospital.”
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