Nurses at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan have voted to authorize a strike if they do not reach agreement on a contract with North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System.

The health system's contract with the New York Professional Nurses Union, which represents more than 1,000 nurses at the Upper East Side hospital, runs out at the end of the month. The nurses voted to give the union the option to issue a 10-day strike notice.

The union, which voted Oct. 17, charges that North Shore-LIJ has proposed changes that jeopardize patient safety and make it harder to retain skilled nurses.

Maureen McCarthy, president of the union, said North Shore-LIJ, which acquired the hospital in 2010, has called for mandatory overtime and for allocating specialized nurses to clinical areas in which they have little expertise.

"That's a patient safety issue," she said.

She also said that the proposed wage increases of 1.25 percent, 1 percent and 1.25 percent, respectively, during the course of the next three years, are not in line with those at other Manhattan hospitals and will mean that the hospital will lose nurses to competitors. And, she said, the health system has offered two unappealing health plans, one that would require nurses to travel to Long Island for their health care or another that would cost nurses anywhere from $1,200 to $4,800 a year in premiums.

North Shore-LIJ spokesman Terry Lynam would not comment on specific contract proposals, but he called the patient safety charge "ridiculous."

"We've hired 240 nurses in the last two years -- that's about a 20 percent increase. We've invested more than $120 million in capital improvements," he said. "All these investments have succeeded in enhancing the overall reputation of the hospital."

Latest videos