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Mary Immaculate nurses protest staffing shortage

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More than 30 off-duty nurses marched in protest outside Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica Tuesday, demanding the parent corporation increase funding and restore support staff to maintain a high level of patient care as the nurses negotiate their new contract.

The 261 nurses, who have been working without a contract since Jan. 31, are seeking to formally incorporate safe staffing ratios that would limit the number of patients each nurse can attend and require set levels of employees for auxiliary functions, said Mark Genovese, spokesman for New York State Nurses Association, the collective bargaining unit for the nurses.

The hospital, located at 152-11 89th Ave. in Jamaica, is managed by the St. Vincent's Catholic Medical Center network, based in Manhattan.

"The bottom line is that St. Vincent's administration needs to replace the support staff they laid off at Mary Immaculate and add more staff throughout this facility," said Maria Flores, nursing representative for NYSNA.

Hospital officials did not return calls seeking comment on the informational picketing and contract negotiations.

Chanting "we care for patients, who cares for us?" more than 30 nurses handed out fliers outlining their arguments Tuesday afternoon. The nurses earn a base salary of $53,000 a year.

"This is a clear indication to the management that nurses are not happy with the way the hospital is being staffed or the way the negotiations are going," Genovese said.

Over the past year, St. Vincent's has been reducing funding for the Jamaica hospital, resulting in cuts to the support staff, Genovese said. Without employees to answer phones, transport patients, pick up medications, or perform other secondary duties, the nurses often have to fill in, leaving them with less time to tend to patients, said Lydia Hunte, one of the nurses who marched in front of the hospital in Tuesday's protest.

"That means that we have to deal with the small problems as well as patient care," said Hunte, of Queens Village. "We can't do it all."

Mary Immaculate also needs additional nurses to allow each nurse to focus on fewer patients, Hunte said. A joint labor-management committee established safe staffing levels for the hospital as part of the last contract negotiations, recommending two critical care patients per nurse, and seven for medical or surgical floors, Flores said.

But the nurses often have closer to 10 patients, said Hunte, who works on the cardiac monitoring floor.

We have a lot more acute cases here," she said. "We can't take care of seven, eight, nine patients if they're all critically ill."

The nurses are also fighting for benefits that are already being given to nurses working in St. Vincent's main facility in Manhattan, including health coverage for retirees and higher pay for experience and working nights and weekends, Genovese said.

Contract talks are still continuing, but the nurses are not ruling out a strike as a possible bargaining tool, he said.

"Registered nurses are the backbone of this facility," Flores said. "But with working conditions as they are now, this hospital can't recruit and retain nurses. Mary Immaculate has a mission to care for the poor, but St. Vincent's is not allowing it to fulfill this mission."

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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