Nurses Won $127K After Protesting NICU Staffing Shortage

Amanda Loudin

June 22, 2023

While nurses nationwide continue to fight for greater practice freedom and improved staffing ratios, a recent hospital fine shows how pushback from nurses can sometimes lead to financial rewards.

A New York arbitrator recently fined Mount Sinai Hospital $127,000 for ongoing understaffing of its neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). At issue was the hospital's failure to meet contractual requirements on staffing ratios, which nurses and administration agreed upon after a January nurses strike, according to Politico.

Following the strike, which primarily centered on safe staffing, the New York State Nurses Association ratified new contracts that included updated nurse-to-patient ratios and established a staffing committee with equal nurse-to-management ratios.

Failure to meet these provisions drove the nurses to seek arbitration, Matt Allen, RN, a labor and delivery nurse at Mount Sinai, told Medscape Medical News. "We hoped the administration would see this victory [the nurse strike settlement] as a warning to begin increasing the nursing staff throughout the hospital. Instead, units like the NICU continued to be critically understaffed, sometimes by up to eight nurses per shift."

NICU nurses were frustrated by having to continue working in "dangerously understaffed shifts," Allen said. "They saw it as disrespectful that the hospital wasn't holding up the ratios they agreed to." So the nurses decided to take further action to hold the hospital accountable, Allen said.

Although Mount Sinai followed the arbitrator's ruling, according to Allen, it expressed its disagreement with the findings.

In a prepared statement, the hospital told Medscape that the NICU is appropriately staffed to ensure safety and appropriate patient care. The recent penalties are an "unfortunate consequence" of the agreement the hospital reached with NSYNA at the end of the strike. But the ratios set in the agreement do not reflect the fact that the NICU is divided into two sections in which slightly fewer than half of the beds are designated for neonatal intensive care, and the rest are designated for intermediate/continuing care, the statement read.

"Intensive care patients are always staffed at a 1:1 – 1:2 ratio, while those in intermediate/continuing care are staffed 1:3 or 1:4, based on the clinical needs of the baby."

According to Allen, the NICU's action inspired other departments throughout the hospital to monitor their own ratios. "The hospital administration is finally taking notice," he said.

Outside of New York, the fight to improve staffing shortages continues. In Minnesota, it was the hospital that scored a win. Mayo Clinic recently pushed back against state legislation that would have required Minnesota hospitals to create hospital nurse staffing committees.

At the end of the state's legislative session, the bill no longer had enough votes to pass, according to a statement from the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA).

Instead, the state legislature passed a Nurse and Patient Safety Act that included some elements of the original bill, notably, a study on nurse staffing and retention, new protections against workplace violence, provisions for childcare assistance, and student loan forgiveness for nurses, according to the MNA statement.

There's no quick fix to the nursing shortage as the tug-of-war between hospitals and staff continues and new methods for resolution are considered, Allen said. "This staffing enforcement is not a cure-all, but it is another tool nurses now have to fight for safe staffing on our units."

For more news, follow Medscape on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.