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Long Island Nurses’ Strike prevented

By Amisha Temal, Features Editor

One distressing element of the healthcare industry that COVID-19 exacerbated was the frustration among nurses. Often overworked and underpaid, nurses around the country have spoken out against a plethora of problems they unfairly face in their fields. 

Nurses from two major hospitals in Nassau County, NY, have unionized and authorized a strike demanding a re-evaluation and replacement of their contracts. The specific institutions were Long Island Jewish Valley Stream Hospital and Peconic Bay Medical Center, both part of Northwell Health. 

At the start of February, The New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) publicly called for management to reappraise their contingent contracts. More than 700 people organized and unanimously planned to go on strike Monday, Feb. 27 if the strike wasn’t upheld by nurses exclusively. They were accompanied by other healthcare professionals such as physical therapists, occupational therapists, pharmacists, neuroimaging technicians, X-Ray technicians, lab technicians and more professionals in hospitals with essential and critical roles. 

Courtesy of LIHerald

Nursing Professor and Dean of the Nursing School at Post Dr. Margaret Stroehlein shared her perspective on handling situations like this. 

“What I would say; I encourage open communication, empathy and a collaborative approach to solving these issues,” she voiced. “At the end of the day, we want to provide quality care to our patients. That’s what I want and emphasize to all our students here at LIU – patient care is very important. I want them to be able to go into these partner hospitals to perform the best patient care. We are very lucky here at LIU that we have great relationships with our surrounding hospitals.”

Fortunately, the strikers and healthcare administrators were able to find some common ground and reached a tentative settlement. On Feb. 15, the agreement was made after a “marathon” bargaining period. 

The NYSNA stated that the tentative settlement addresses enforcing safer working conditions, ethical staffing procedures, protection of NYSNA health pension benefits and major wage increases. Northwell agreed to increase the wages at Peconic Bay Medical Center. However, they did not give Valley Stream Hospital the same treatment. Their explanation as to why they rejected wage increases was that the community and workers were “characteristically different” in nature. This statement has been met with backlash from many professionals who have heard that claim several times before in their career, with it often revealing biases towards more diverse communities. 

“I feel as a former administrator and a dean of a nursing school, resolution is very important,” Stroehlein said. “Healthcare today is very complex, it’s a business we have to run. The best thing is resolution and protection. We need the nurses bedside and present to be able to do a good job. It’s a difficult job. It’s difficult in healthcare to run these systems effectively.”

In terms of good news for all nurses involved, the agreement will provide employees with a 20 percent wage increase. This puts the starting salary for nurses at both hospitals at $87,531 to as high as $97,597. The conditions under the agreement will be applied until Dec. 31, 2026.

“We really want our partners to be empathetic and communicate and to resolve these issues, it is really our patients who are most affected by these issues,” Stroehlein said. “Things happen. Sometimes you work in an area where you just can’t turn patients away. If you work in an emergency room or OB (obstetrics) area where patients just keep coming you can’t just turn around and tell the patients to stop coming. I’ve been in situations like that and you have to do the best you can. Sometimes as an administrator, you have to get your hands dirty and help out. I’ve been at the bedside working in tough situations and have been an administrator. We all do the best we can.”

Nursing students at both the Post and Brooklyn campuses are welcomed at both hospitals with open arms. These locations are constantly taking in Post students for clinicals and internships. This connection allows LIU’s nursing schools to stand out amongst the rest. Although the nurses at Peconic Bay Medical Center have received their desired accommodations, the NYSNA says they won’t neglect the desires of those working at Valley Stream Hospital.

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