High turnover and the hiring of so-called traveling nurses at Jacobi Medical Center is likely costing the city tens of millions of dollars a year in additional costs, according to sources inside the New York State Nurses Union, which represents staff at the hospital.
Their claim is based on internal hospital staffing data that shows from between November 2022 to January 2023, Jacobi employed a total of 146 so-called traveling or “agency” nurses, who aren’t technically permanent members of the hospital staff.
The agency nurses can earn substantially more in annual salary than regular staff nurses, according to Kristle Simms-Murphy, who’s worked as a nurse practitioner at Jacobi for 16 years.
“It’s a slap in the face,” she said. “We train these agency nurses, and they come on and make more than what we earn.”
The data, which NYSNA shared with the Daily News amid contract negotiations with the city’s public Health + Hospitals network, also suggests the city is spending millions more on traveling nurses than it would on staff nurses at its other public hospitals. When applied to the city’s 10 other hospitals, that spending could translate into hundreds of millions of dollars in additional costs.
“A conservative estimate is that the city is spending $18.5 million to $24.2 million per year on traveler/agency nurses just for Jacobi Hospital,” NYSNA spokeswoman Kristi Barnes told The News.
Barnes, who cited fragmented city data as well as data published in a hospital trade publication last year, noted that Health + Hospitals has not yet given NYSNA a full and official accounting of how much it spends on traveling nurses, but said that on average they make two to three times more than nurses who are on staff permanently.
She noted that the union’s estimates are based on all the data currently available to it and said they are “conservative.”
The city’s Health + Hospitals network is now engaged in on-again, off-again contract negotiations with NYSNA. The union presented a full proposal to H+H on March 7, and in a subsequent negotiation, on March 14, the city broke off talks halfway through the day, Barnes said. The next negotiation is set for April 4.
The talks come two months after members of the union went on strike at two private hospitals in the city — Mount Sinai in Manhattan and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. The walk outs ultimately led to contracts, but shook the city’s health care infrastructure and proved that NYSNA was willing to go to the mattresses for its workers.
The main bones of contention with H+H are likely to be pay parity between nurses at public hospitals compared to their private counterparts, as well as nurse staffing levels, which the union contends are too low.
Members of NYSNA are expected to testify to the City Council on Tuesday about the city’s hospitals budget.
An H+H spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions.
“Nurses stand on the frontlines of our health care system, and we all were witness to their heroic actions during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are incredibly grateful for the hard work, dedication, and sacrifice our highly-skilled nurses make every day and we welcome new opportunities to strengthen our partnership with NYSNA and the nurses who are so essential,” said Kate Smart, a spokeswoman for Mayor Adams.
“The city meets regularly with NYSNA and has multiple calendared meetings on the books in the coming weeks as we work toward finalizing a new contract.”
Staff nurses at public hospitals are leaving at an alarming rate as well, according to Simms-Murphy and Barnes — thanks to the higher pay they can take home from private hospitals in the city.
“Health + Hospitals is paying for that training but losing their investment,” said Simms-Murphy. “We’re not able to retain nurses.”
Citing internal hospital data, she said that last year about 250 nurses resigned from Jacobi, and that of those only about 70 were people who retired. Many of the others who left did so because they could demand a better salary elsewhere, she said.
“They tell me they can’t afford to work here,” Simms-Murphy said. “It means that continuing care is lacking. It means that staff doesn’t know our patients. They don’t know the ins and outs of the hospital.”
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