Sources within the New York State Nurses Association, which represents staff at Jacobi Medical Center, state that high turnover rates and the hiring of temporary nurses, commonly referred to as “traveling” or “agency” nurses, is likely resulting in tens of millions of dollars in additional costs for the city each year.
This claim is based on internal staffing data from the hospital that reveals the employment of 146 agency nurses between November 2022 and January 2023, who are not permanent members of the hospital staff.
According to Kristle Simms-Murphy, a nurse practitioner with 16 years of experience at Jacobi, agency nurses are capable of earning a considerably higher annual salary compared to regular staff nurses.
“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.”
Amid contract negotiations with the city’s public Health + Hospitals network, the New York State Nurses Association shared data with the Daily News that indicates the city is spending millions more on traveling nurses than it would on staff nurses at its other public hospitals. This information suggests that the additional costs of hiring traveling nurses could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars if applied to the city’s other 10 hospitals.
“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 referred to data from fragmented sources as well as a hospital trade publication from last year, pointed out that the Health + Hospitals network has yet to provide NYSNA with a complete and official account of its spending on traveling nurses. She stated that these agency nurses typically make two to three times more than permanent staff nurses, on average. Barnes indicated that the union’s calculations are based on all available data and are conservative.
Currently, the Health + Hospitals network is intermittently negotiating a contract with NYSNA. The union presented a complete proposal to the network on March 7, and during a subsequent meeting on March 14, the city broke off talks halfway through the day, according to Barnes. The next negotiation is scheduled for April 4.
After union members went on strike at two private hospitals in the city two months ago, the negotiations come. The walkouts resulted in contracts, but they disrupted the city’s healthcare system and demonstrated that NYSNA was ready to fight for its members.
The main points of dispute with H+H are likely to be pay equity between public and private hospital nurses, as well as nurse staffing levels that the union claims are insufficient.
On Tuesday, NYSNA members are anticipated to testify before the City Council regarding the city’s hospital budget.
Questions posed to an H+H spokesperson went unanswered at the time of publication.
“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.”
Simms-Murphy and Barnes also noted that staff nurses at public hospitals are leaving at a concerning rate due to the higher salaries they can earn at 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.”