About 75 nurses from three Long Island Catholic hospitals protested Wednesday in front of church headquarters in Rockville Centre, saying the hospitals are badly understaffed by nurses.
The intensive care units at some of the hospitals have patient-to-nurse ratios as high as 4-1, when they should be 2-1, said Tracy Kosciuk, a leader of the local chapter of the New York State Nurses Association union at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson.
“Having a correct ratio of patients to nurses can make the difference between life and death,” said Maureen Woodruff, 64, a nurse at St. Charles.
The other hospitals involved in the rally in front of the headquarters of the Diocese of Rockville Centre were St. Catherine of Siena in Smithtown and St. Joseph in Bethpage.
Nurses at all three hospitals have been working without a contract for about a year. The hospitals have a total of about 1,200 nurses, the union said.
Catholic Health Services, which runs the network of Catholic hospitals on Long Island, denied that there is a shortage of nurses at the three hospitals.
“We have a sufficient number of nurses to safely care for our patients, complemented by a team of highly qualified support staff,” said Christine Hendriks, a spokeswoman for Catholic Health Services.
She added that CHS and the union are close to an agreement on the contracts.
“It is disappointing, therefore, that NYSNA chose to conduct its negotiations in a public manner rather than across the table,” Hendriks said. “However, we will continue to work with them in good faith until a successful conclusion can be reached.”
Leaders of the union said they are not close to an agreement with Catholic Health Services, and that the staffing issue is the first point they want to resolve.
Kosciuk said St. Charles has about 250 nurses, but needs another 92 to have safe staffing levels.
Lorraine Incarnato, who said she has worked as a nurse in the ICU at St. Catherine for 28 years, said the shortage of nurses and other staff is taking a toll. Nurses often are required to help out with other duties, she said.
“You’re constantly being pulled away from your nursing duties to do non-nursing duties,” she said. “The patients are not getting the care they need. They’re not happy with their care.”
Some of the protesters carried signs or wore T-shirts that read “Patient Safety in Long Island Just Can’t Wait” and “Safe RN Staffing Saves Lives.”
Catholic Health Services, the largest faith-based health care system on Long Island with some 17,000 employees and $2.3 billion in annual revenue, runs six hospitals along with other institutions including nursing homes. Nurses are unionized at three of the six hospitals.