PESP response to NY nurse strike
Private equity and the need for better pay and safer staffing in the nursing field
7,000 nurses from two NYC hospitals went on strike Monday, calling for better wages and safer staffing. According to the union representing them (NYSNA), nurses at the bargaining table were advocating for better enforcement mechanisms “to ensure safe staffing levels were honored.”
“NYSNA President Nancy Hagans said staffing levels are so low at [Montefiore Medical Center] that emergency room nurses have had to care for 20 patients at a time instead of their usual three.”
“Our bosses created the understaffing crisis,” Hagans told Politico.
This understaffing phenomenon describes when, as a cost-saving measure, hospitals intentionally do not schedule enough nurses to safely care for patients.
In September 2022, PESP published a report titled “Profiting in Crisis: Exploring Private Equity’s Investments in Travel Nursing Amidst a Critical Nursing Shortage and a Pandemic.” that explored the increasingly common understaffing problem in the healthcare industry and how private equity is involved in this practice. This report described how private equity firms buying up travel nursing companies are opportunistically profiting from the nurse staffing crisis, a crisis that some nurses and their advocates argue has been manufactured by the hospital industry.
Some nurses have argued that legally mandated safe staffing ratios would help address the nurse staffing shortage by reducing the burnout nurses face that can end up driving them away from the bedside.
Many hospitals have failed to implement the changes that staff nurses are calling for, such as higher pay and safe staffing ratios. In the absence of change, some nurses are leaving the profession or choosing to work under short-term travel nurse contracts that pay much better and give them greater flexibility around taking time off.
Since the beginning of the pandemic there has been an uptick in travel nursing, accompanied by record levels of private equity activity in the medical staffing space. “The nurse staffing crisis wasn’t caused by the pandemic, but has certainly gotten worse during it,” PESP researcher Mary Bugbee explains, “Travel nursing agencies and investors have taken advantage of a health crisis and government relief funds to hike up rates charged to hospitals for travel nurses.”
Bugbee added, “We’re in a vicious feedback loop that begins with hospitals understaffing units leading to nurse burnout and high turnover. Then hospitals are in a bind and need to over rely on expensive, contingent labor to close the gaps, which they increasingly cannot sustain financially. The exacerbated staffing shortages further drive more nurses to leave due to high levels of stress and even moral injury.
“Nurses are saying that unsafe staffing levels are a driver of the nurse staffing crisis we see around the nation. Hospital administrators and policymakers need to listen and ensure that nurses have safe staffing ratios. In the meantime, policymakers must ensure that travel nursing companies and other medical staffing agencies won’t get to make outsized profits from this crisis. PESP supports the New York nurses who are demanding adequate pay and staffing levels for the incredible work they do.”