Members of the Brookhaven Memorial Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals union have been overworked and understaffed for two years fighting COVID-19. That fight continues, but the dedicated unionists do have one victory to celebrate. Members overwhelmingly ratified a three-year contract that will boost pay and address staffing problems.
The agreement 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.
Brookhaven Memorial FNHP President Cynthia Lacey said she has received texts from members who are working extended shifts, and others who raised concerns over the number of patients they are responsible for.
“Nurses who are out due to COVID has been a big factor,” Lacey said, adding that because of the shortage caused by symptomatic nurses out of work, those 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. NYSUT labor relations specialist Mike Krauthamer said union leaders are constantly advocating with hospital administration over staffing issues and health and safety protocol.
“Recently, many members have themselves tested positive resulting in challenging staffing issues as well as obviously being concerned over
the health of their union colleagues,” he said. “It is hard to describe the impact that the pandemic has had on these members. Their lives have been turned upside down.”
The hospital has suffered significant staffing issues for years, even prior to COVID-19, but it has been greatly magnified during the pandemic. The lack of staff has resulted in members consistently working extra shifts, often in areas of the hospital they are not typically assigned, Krauthamer said. Members also have to deal with mandated overtime during periods that New York state is under a state of emergency.
The 538-member unit predominantly comprises nurses working in all capacities, but also includes respiratory therapists, homecare and hospice workers, social workers, pharmacy workers, nurse practitioners, lab technologists, care managers and others. The parties also agreed to participate in labor/management training sessions conducted by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.