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Striking Mercy Hospital workers demand safe staffing

“It’s dangerous"
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Posted at 5:38 PM, Oct 01, 2021

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — “What do we want?”, shouts CWA members. “Safe staffing!”, replies striking workers. “When do you want it?” members ask. “Now!” they declare.

That is one of the union chants on the picket lines of striking workers outside Mercy Hospital in south Buffalo.

More than 2,000 hospital nurses and staffers walked out at 6 a.m. Friday after all night contract talks with Catholic Health fell apart.

A major sticking point in this labor battle between CWA Local 1133 and Catholic Health is about safe staffing levels inside Mercy Hospital in south Buffalo.

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Strike at Mercy Hospital.

The union says there are not enough nurses to handle the patient load and are demanding better nurse-to-patient ratios.

“It’s dangerous. One nurse to ten patients that are paralyzed — it’s just ridiculous. You can't move them — they end up with wounds,” remarked Jackie Ettipio, RN, president, CWA Local 1133.The union says mercy hospital and other catholic health hospitals are “dangerously understaffed.”

Ettipio says there is a severe crisis when it comes to staffing.

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Deborah Hayes & Jackie Ettipio with CWA.

The union says it needs catholic health to establish nurse to patient ratios for the safety of patients and nurses.

“Our critical care nurses should not be caring for three or four patients — they should be taking care of one extremely ill patient and two tops,” remarked Deborah Hayes, Upstate area director, CWA.

The union says Catholic health has said they are being “unreasonable” to insist on staffing ratios and quality patient care.

But Catholic Health CEO Mark Sullivan emerged early Friday morning shortly after the strike started to say they presented a fair offer on staffing.

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Catholic Health CEO Mark Sullivan Friday morning after strike started.

Sullivan says despite being faced with a national and local staffing crisis, Catholic Health is still promising to “increase” staffing.

“In an unprecedented time, Catholic Health stepped forward and put together a proposal where we would add ten percent more workforce over and above the average daily census and we would also add between 150 and 230 new associates and on top of that we were committed to adding $20-million to the staffing plan,” Sullivan explained.

All around streets near Mercy Hospital there are these safe staffing signs.

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Safe staffing signs in south Buffalo.

In June, a Safe Staffing bill in New York State was signed into law — the first of its kind in the nation.The New York State Nursing Association helped fight for it.

Here is a brief look how the law would change staffing levels:

  • Staffing committees that would include nurses would be established
  • Management will be required to meet with workers to create staffing plans
  • Yearly staffing plans would need New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) approval
  • DOH would establish staffing standards for ICU and critical care.
  • Facility operators who fail to comply would face penalties

Facilities must comply by January first of next year. A spokesperson for the nursing association says plans must be submitted by July first.