The City Of Good Neighbors

January 12, 2021

Labor-management cooperation at Buffalo’s Catholic Health has been central to caring for Western New York’s COVID patients

GoodNeighbors_fa.jpgAs New York State’s Buffalo Niagara Region comes up against a second wave of the coronavirus, the area’s Catholic Health (CH) hospital system is relying on a strong foundation of preparedness and lessons learned during February’s COVID-19 outbreak.

“We have never stopped preparing. Our goal since February has been to be always ready,” President and CEO Mark Sullivan told Buffalo’s WKBW in a recent interview. “The disease knows no barriers. We are seeing more people coming into the hospital now with COVID symptoms. We’re not seeing the same number of people in the ICUs, but that’s not to say that won’t happen in the future.”

Workers’ cooperation and outreach to unions played a major part in that preparedness. 1199 represents some 1,500 members at four CH institutions throughout the Buffalo area. And as CH management and workers undertook the massive task of becoming COVID ready and transforming St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Cheektowaga into a COVID-only facility, 1199SEIU and the Communications Workers of America (both unions represent workers at CH facilities) huddled with management to negotiate agreements ensuring staffing requirements were met, workers were protected, and adequate compensation and crisis pay were provided.

“Catholic Health immediately contacted the Union and negotiated [an additional] $10.00 an hour in premium pay for anyone working on a COVID unit,” says 1199SEIU Vice President Jim Scordato. “They made sure workers had all the PPE they needed, and units were well-staffed. The response was really remarkable, especially considering that other employers were doing the opposite: rationing supplies and limiting crisis pay.”

CH also provided hotel rooms, meals, and counseling to workers facing unprecedented challenges as they got a new hospital up, running and ready to serve the needs of the Buffalo Niagara area’s COVID patients.

“We went live taking care of patients on March 26 and had three zones – red, yellow, and green. Because of the way we worked with CH, everyone felt safe. The institution of crisis pay was particularly great,” says Shaun Crisman, a surgical tech at Sisters of Charity Hospital who worked at St. Joseph’s making sure PPE was worn properly.

Brenda Anderson, an LPN at St. Catherine Labouré Health Care Center in Buffalo, says cooperation, along with a sense of concern for workers’ physical, spiritual and emotional needs, gave caregivers a sense of security in the face of the unknown.

“The administration showed that they were there with us. They made sure that we had everything we needed to do our jobs to the best of our abilities,” says Anderson. “We have not always gotten along, but we were really working together, and we have a working relationship that’s even better now.”

Buffalo is known as the city of good neighbors, and CH CEO Sullivan says cooperation during COVID is emblematic of that spirit.

“Buffalo rises to the occasion. We care about people, and we see that day in and day out in health care,” says Sullivan. “COVID has truly shown the depth of the relationship among people in the communities of Western New York.”

1199 Magazine | November & December 2020