On May 23, RNs and pharmacists employed by St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital led a “Picket for Quality Care & Jobs” at the hospital’s main campus in Newburgh, NY, to protest radical contract proposals put forth by the administration that could hurt patient care throughout the Hudson Valley. The St. Luke’s workers were joined by nurses and other healthcare workers from throughout New York State, including a bus load from New York City.
The St. Luke’s nurses and pharmacists, who are jointly members of 1199SEIU and Teamsters Local 445, have been without a contract for over a year because the hospital refuses to negotiate a fair agreement. Among other drastic proposals, the administration has threatened to increase their healthcare costs by as much as 100 percent, threatening the workers’ ability to provide for their families.
“We put everything into caring for our patients. They are the reason we became nurses in the first place,” said Linda Travis, a St. Luke’s RN. “Our hard work reflects well on St. Luke’s, yet they are proposing short-sighted cuts that will make it harder for us to care for ourselves and our families now and into retirement. All we are asking for is a fair contract that will allow us to care for our patients and our families.”
Nurses also fear that these cuts could make it harder to recruit and retain qualified professional staff, which could lead to understaffing. Already, U.S. News and World Report rankings showed that St. Luke’s Cornwall has low nurse staffing in nine key areas: Diabetes and Endocrinology; Gastroenterology; Geriatrics; Gynecology; Ear, Nose and Throat; Nephrology; Orthopedics; Pulmonology; and Urology. Several studies have found that low staffing can negatively impact patient care.
“As it is now, we are short-staffed,” said Lynn Forgit, also an RN at St. Luke’s Cornwall. “If the hospital’s cuts go into effect, new, qualified nurses will not want to work here. The bottom line is that the hospital cannot run without us. What will happen to care if there aren’t nurses?”
Norma Amsterdam, Executive Vice President of 1199’s RN division, delivered an impassioned speech to the picketers. “1199 stands with you. We will continue to support you in winning a fair contract at St. Luke’s. We cannot let the administration put your future at risk,” she said.
While threatening these cuts for nurses and pharmacists, the administration has lavished massive compensation packages on CEO Allan Atzrott, who received a total of $743,393 in 2009, the last year that this data is publicly available. From 2002-2009 Mr. Atzrott had raises totaling 133%, making him one of the highest paid non-profit executives in the area. Mr. Atzrott has done so well for himself that he recently bought a $580,000 beach house in a high-end Delaware community.
St. Luke’s Cornwall is one of the largest employers in Orange County. As a not-for-profit institution that benefits from tax breaks and taxpayer funding, the hospital has a responsibility to be a leader in providing good, middle-class jobs to the local community, which is already struggling economically. If the administration goes ahead with these cuts, it could drag down the quality of 360 jobs.
Support the St. Luke’s Cornwall nurses! Tell CEO Allan Atzrott to stop putting profits before care. Call him at 845.568.2222.