By Penny Mintz
Not too long ago, a nurse came into the emergency room of Beth Israel Hospital as a patient seeking emergency care. This nurse is employed in the ER of the main Mount Sinai hospital on East 98th Street. When asked why she had not gone to the Mount Sinai ER she said, “I would never go to that hellhole.” According to her, there are days when patients on stretchers are wedged into the ER; “They’re sandwiched in,” she reported. It’s dangerous for the patients, who are inaccessible when they need immediate treatment, and it’s dangerous for the nurses, who have suffered injuries as they pry the stretchers apart.
A series of articles, published in December in the New York Post, about the ER on 98th Street—Mount Sinai’s showcase hospital— support the story told by the nurse who came to Beth Israel’s ER. According to the Post’s reports, the ER at Mount Sinai is overwhelmed by staffing shortages. Nurses there describe their workplace as a “war zone.”
When the Beth Israel nursing staff turned on their computers after the publication of the first New York Post article about conditions at Mount Sinai, they found a posting that notified them that the Post story was full of false and misleading assertions. Mount Sinai was, essentially, dealing with the exposé by taking a cue from the White House in Washington and telling staff that the story was fake news.
Despite assurances from the Mount Sinai Health System, nurses in the Beth Israel ER fear that the conditions existing in Mount Sinai’s ER are coming to them.
I spoke at length with a Beth Israel ER nurse (who shall remain anonymous due to concerns that Mount Sinai might retaliate against employees who criticize their operation) who said that the conditions at Beth Israel have been steadily deteriorating due to staff cuts.
Recently, the Beth Israel nurse submitted an official staff report regarding unsafe conditions in the pediatric ER to a supervisor. Unsafe staffing forms are routinely submitted when the nurse-to-patient ratio exceeds six adult patients to each nurse, which is recognized as the maximum safe ratio. In this particular reported case, a single nurse was caring for ten infants and toddlers. Infants and toddlers require more time and attention than adults, which means that the situation was more dangerous than a completely unacceptable ratio of ten adult patients per nurse. The supervisor did nothing about the reported danger for nine hours, so the nurse raised the concern again. The supervisor promised to address the issue, but no action was ever taken.
Beth Israel employed 800 nurses when Mount Sinai took over in 2013. Only about 350 remain. There will be worse to come in the ER in 2020, the ER nurse claims, because 50% of the remaining staff will be cut. The staff cuts include patient-care assistants, who are the lowest paid employees on staff. These are the people who help patients with basic hygiene tasks, obtain vital signs, and perform basic laboratory tasks—burdens that will only be added to the burdens of the reduced nursing staff.
Right now, the conditions are still “beautiful” in Beth Israel compared to Mount Sinai, according to the Mount Sinai nurse who came for emergency care downtown. Despite the nurse-to-patient ratios downtown that exceed safe standards, those ratios are lower than the ratios at Mount Sinai.
According to a report in Crain’s New York, Kenneth Davis, president and CEO of the Mount Sinai Health System, earned $12,390,588 in 2018. He enjoyed another $57,000 worth of benefits. Jeremy Boal, President of Mount Sinai Downtown, earned $1,852,357 plus $57,000 in benefits. The ten highest paid Mount Sinai executives were paid over $26 million. If they took a 20% cut, or Davis alone took a 40% cut, surely both the Mount Sinai and Beth Israel ERs could be fully staffed.