NYU Langone–Brooklyn Nurses Say Staffing Levels Have Reached State of Emergency
Complaint to state alleges violations of rule limiting ICU nurses to two patients at a time.
Critical and intensive care nurses at NYU Langone–Brooklyn claim they’re treating as many as four patients at a time — twice the number allowed under a state regulation that went into effect in June.
Under a state Department of Health rule in line with a recently adopted state law, hospitals must assign no more than two patients at a time to critical and intensive care unit nurses. The NYU nurses filed 30 complaints in the past week against management at the Sunset Park hospital, each stemming from incidents in alleged violation of state law and their collective bargaining agreement.
The roughly 1,000 nurses at Langone–Brooklyn, formerly known as Lutheran Hospital, are represented by the United Federation of Teachers.
Nurses say staffing shortages have left them scrambling to care for gunshot victims, traffic accident survivors and others in need of trauma care. Anne Goldman, an ICU nurse and union leader, said in an interview that Langone–Brooklyn is “playing Russian Roulette with who we see and how we respond.”
“We want to do our jobs. We’re patient advocates, and when we can’t do that, that is the tragedy,” said Goldman, who heads the Federation of Nurses/UFT. “Right now, the hospital is packed. We do not have the staff we need and we don’t have the support we need to achieve the best outcomes.”
The complaints filed by the union are drawn from more than 2,000 incidents of alleged understaffing in the last 18 months. In a letter to state health department commissioner Dr. James V. McDonald on Thursday, Goldman urged the state to investigate Langone’s implementation of the recent staffing enforcement law.
“The Hospital’s refusal to deal with the persistent staffing shortage, and the staffing shortage’s daily impact on patient care, forced the union to take the next step and notify the Department of the Hospital’s violations,” Goldman wrote.
“We hope that the Department will immediately and thoroughly investigate this ongoing patient care crisis and appropriately penalize the Hospital for its actions.”
A spokesperson for the state Department of Health did not respond to a request for comment.
In a statement, NYU Langone Health spokesman Steve Ritea said the union’s allegations that the Brooklyn hospital is flouting staffing regulations “is patently false” and blasted the union for “providing an inaccurate portrait of patient care, completely misrepresenting our institution and our valued nurses who provide quality care.”
“UFT’s staffing numbers do not reflect our current figures. In fact, we continue to grow our nursing workforce, outpacing turnover,” Ritea said. “Sharing patently false information with the public to advance their own agenda is pernicious, harmful to patients and disingenuous to the entire healthcare community.”
“Delivering the best patient care with the utmost safety and quality remains our top priority in Brooklyn and across NYU Langone Health,” he added.
Patient Problems Rise
But NYU Langone–Brooklyn nurses say chronic understaffing and turnover have reached a state of emergency.
According to official complaints filed by the nurses that were reviewed by THE CITY, during a six-day stretch in June the hospital’s ICU unit allegedly failed to meet the state mandated staffing ratios for four out of six days.
The union also said chronic understaffing has led to an increase in patient injuries. Langone-Brooklyn is on track to have 495 falls by the end of the year, a 41% increase over 2022, the union said in a statement on Thursday citing the Brooklyn campus’ quality metrics numbers. In an interview, Goldman also noted an increase in patient complaints of pressure wounds, commonly known as bedsores.
Ritea, the NYU Langone Health spokesman, denied the union’s claims of increased patient falls and injuries at the Brooklyn campus.
“The number of falls, including those with injuries as well as pressure injuries projected in Brooklyn, are actually a fraction of what UFT alleges and has decreased from prior years,” he said. “We have a robust system of capturing and quickly addressing each of these incidents when they occur.”
On Friday, Goldman slammed NYU Langone Health for “calling our nurses liars.”
“Unlike the NYU administrators, our nurses are on the floors, in the units,” she said. “They know what is happening because they are living it, along with their patients.”
Hospitals that violate the so-called safe staffing law, passed by the state legislature in 2021 at nurses’ unions urging, face fines of up to $2,000 per violation. Subsequent violations within the same 12 months can be penalized for up to $5,000, or up to $10,000 if the violation directly results in patient harm.
New York’s law resulted from a compromise that limits staffing quotas to critical and intensive care units only. So far, California is the only state that mandates and enforces hospital staffing rules across all units.