Healthcare Workers Across NY Demand State Department of Health Address Critical Staffing Levels at Hospitals Now by Enforcing 2021 Safe Staffing Law: “Our Patients Can’t Wait Any Longer, We Can’t Wait Any Longer”

May 13, 2024

1RN Rally.jpgNew York’s healthcare workers are calling on the New York State Department of Health (DOH) to aggressively enforce the state’s historic 2021 Clinical Staffing Committee law. Healthcare workers from hospitals across New York, represented by the Communications Workers of America District 1 (CWA D1), New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East (1199SEIU), Public Employees Federation (PEF), New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) and United Federation of Teachers (UFT), united in Albany today to demand the DOH take immediate action. The law is meant to ensure minimum staffing standards, agreed upon by both hospitals’ management and workers, to curtail the staffing crisis impacting caregivers and their patients. Elected officials, including Senator Gustavo Rivera and Assembly members Amy Paulin, Harry Bronson, Karines Reyes, Aileen Gunther and Phara Souffrant Forrest attended the rally alongside the workers. 

“As dedicated caregivers, including nurses, technicians, aides, and the entire care team represented by 1199SEIU, we have tirelessly advocated for legislation aimed at enhancing our capacity to provide optimal patient care,” said Nadine Williams, 1199SEIU Executive Vice President and head of the RN Division.  “This legislation holds promise in elevating both patient outcomes and job satisfaction, particularly through collaborative efforts between frontline caregivers and management, fostering open communication, and problem-solving initiatives. While progress is evident in numerous healthcare facilities, this is merely the initial phase of an extensive journey. Regrettably, certain hospitals are failing to uphold the essence and specifics of the legislation. To truly witness substantive enhancements in patient care and staffing levels, it is imperative for the Department of Health to diligently fulfill its enforcement responsibilities.”

The rally in Albany comes just weeks after state legislators passed the 2025 fiscal year budget, which included less than a 4% increase in Medicaid funding for hospitals, far below what was proposed by healthcare leaders and advocates across the state. 

"New York healthcare workers have been sounding the alarm on unsafe working conditions and rampant understaffing at hospitals for years and are virtually the only ones holding our healthcare system together, all while caring for too many patients at once,” said Dennis G. Trainor, Vice President, CWA District 1. “The DOH needs to stop dragging its feet on safe staffing. The clinical staffing committee law was passed three years ago and enforced at the beginning of last year. Our patients can’t wait any longer. This law lives and dies by what the DOH does in the next few months.”

"Patient safety should be everyone's priority, but hospitals are violating our safe staffing laws, putting patients at risk,” said Nancy Hagans, RN, BSN, CCRN - NYSNA President and National Nurses United Co-President. “The nurses, healthcare workers and the unions representing them are all speaking out in one united voice to say it’s time for New York to enforce our safe staffing laws,” said Hagans.

"We cannot expect our frontline healthcare workers to be able to provide the quality care patients deserve without proper staffing policies and to do that the Department of Health needs to work more closely with the facility-level staffing committees and the frontline nurses who provide this care every day. Enforcement must be a priority. Lives depend on it,” said Mario Cilento, President of the New York State AFL-CIO.

“Patients will not receive the best possible care if nurse staffing abuses persist,” said NYS Public Employees Federation President Wayne Spence. “Inadequate staffing impacts everyone – nurses, patients, and providers. To ensure all health care providers can deliver the highest possible quality of care, the Department of Health must redouble its efforts to administer and enforce the 2021 Staffing Committee Law.  It’s the right thing to do for everyone, and it’s the law.”

"We have a law on the books that says hospitals must provide the correct nurse-to-patient ratio. Hospitals are not meeting those ratios. Rather than enforcing the law, the state Health Department seems to be taking no action. The state Health Department's job is to protect patients, not hospital executives," said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, which represents thousands of private sector nurses.

"Safe Staffing levels are not a whim. They provide a proven staffing level for patients to have the best outcomes. By ignoring those ratios, hospitals are putting our patients at risk. By not enforcing the law, the state Health Department is saying that's OK. We are here to say it's not," said Anne Goldman, RN, UFT Vice President for Non-DOE Members and Special Representative to the Federation of Nurses/UFT.

CWA District 1, NYSNA and 1199SEIU were key advocates in the writing and demanding passage of the 2021 Clinical Staffing Committee law.  The law is intended to address hospitals’ widespread staffing crisis by requiring the creation of clinical staffing committees (CSC) at every hospital in the state.  Each CSC is 50% frontline healthcare workers and up to 50% management. These committees are responsible for developing enforceable safe staffing plans unique to their facility. Each staffing plan must indicate the number of patients and number of staff for each clinical unit.  

Since the 2021 Clinical Staffing Committee law went into effect in January 2023, thousands of unresolved staffing complaints have been filed on behalf of workers by CWA District 1, NYSNA, and 1199SEIU including over 2,500 alleged violations under hospitals’ clinical staffing plans filed in March 2024 with the DOH on behalf of healthcare workers across Catholic Health in Buffalo.  Nearly 8,000 alleged violations that were filed with the DOH in November 2023 on behalf of workers across New York hospitals, including Kaleida Health, New York-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan, and Arnot Ogden Medical Center remain unresolved. In response to the November filings, the DOH has conducted unannounced visits to hospitals across the state to investigate their adherence to the law, the result of which remains to be seen. To date, the DOH has issued only 25 citations to hospitals that violated the staffing law.  Frontline caregivers continue to report chronic staffing issues plaguing hospitals around the state - prompting workers to rally on the steps of the Senate Monday to demand enforcement of this critical law.

In lieu of strong enforcement from the state, NYSNA nurses have used union contract provisions to document chronic understaffing, resulting in millions of dollars in financial restitution from third-party arbitrators. After presenting evidence and testimony, they have also won rulings that order hospitals to hire an adequate number of nurses to achieve safe staffing standards.

“I’m so proud to have passed historic safe staffing protections into law three years ago. Laws must be enforced to improve conditions for patients and nurses,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera, chair of the Health Committee. “I’m proud to stand with a strong labor coalition to make sure facilities adhere to these important laws so our state can continue to lead the nation.”

“As a nurse and Assemblymember, I firmly believe that safe staffing saves lives. Quality patient care is only achievable in facilities that are adequately staffed with skilled and compassionate professionals whose jobs grant them the ability to care for themselves. A healthcare system that prioritizes patient safety, quality care, and the dignity of healthcare professionals is the healthcare system New Yorkers deserve and demand. Safe staffing is not just a priority—it's a necessity.” Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest

“Workers safety and high patient safety go hand in hand” said Assembly Member Karines Reyes, R.N., Chair of the Assembly’s Subcommittee on Workplace Safety and member of the Assembly Health Committee. “In 2021, health care workers and government officials came together to pass a comprehensive safe staffing law to improve patient health outcomes and provide adequate coverage to support the work of existing medical professionals. We need the NYS Department of Health to provide the necessary leadership, oversight and enforcement of this law to ensure that all parties are fulfilling their duties to New York’s patients. I am hopeful that state officials will use their power ensure that actors are held accountable for the staffing crisis in our hospitals and bring quality treatment to our state’s communities.”

Assembly Member Aileen Gunther, RN, said: “In all my years as a nurse, a patient advocate, and a legislator, I have seen the positive impact that safe staffing makes on quality care. The 2021 clinical staffing committee law was years in the making and a giant step forward in protecting patient care. Now New York and the Department of Health need to do the hard work of fully implementing and enforcing the law.”

“If you want the best health outcomes in our state’s hospitals, listen to the frontline workers. Healthcare workers across New York have been ringing the alarm bells about the risks associated with staffing shortages, and it’s time for the Department of Health to take action and enforce the law,” said Senate Labor Chair Jessica Ramos.