The New York State Nurses Association hit the streets of Utica Wednesday morning to rally against staffing cuts at St. Elizabeth Campus. The Mohawk Valley Health System says 40 nurses at St. Elizabeth have been laid off to this point.
"Starting this week, I have been called every day to work, that doesn't happen with per diem staff very often. So if they have a need for nurses, which they clearly do because they're calling me, why are we laying off nurses?” says Tosha Elseth, a per diem RN at St. Elizabeth.
MVHS announced last month it was furloughing roughly 20% of its staff due to financial strain from the coronavirus pandemic.
NYSNA nurses instead invoked the layoff provisions in their contracts.
"Doing our layoff contract, it goes by seniority, and why wouldn't you want your most senior and experienced nurses working at a time like this? So that's why we had to invoke the layoff clause, because it provides more protection for our members,” says NYSNA Upstate Political Director Corey Ellis.
Those rallying say this is not the time to layoff healthcare workers.
"We're in a pandemic and the response should be to provide further support for the staff and patients,” says St. Elizabeth RN Lily Werenczak, “And then later go back to the federal government and say we kept our patients safe, we staffed our hospitals, we spent this much, can you help us out?"
In a statement, MVHS says NYSNA nurses, after not accepting the furlough, were given three options: filling a vacant position, "bumping" a nurse with less seniority, or choosing a layoff.
They say nurses will be called back to work as needed once elective surgeries resume and numbers increase.
The health system says four have already returned with elective surgeries beginning this Friday.