New York City VA nurses demand more nurse recruitment

A group of about 30 registered nurses rallied outside at the VA New York Harbor Healthcare System in Lower Manhattan on Thursday demanding more nursing staff, a dedicated nurse recruiter, and better pay. 

Alongside union reps from National Nurses United (NNU), they called on Timothy Graham, the new executive director, and CEO at the VA New York Harbor Health Care System, to address the chronic short-staffing issue at the Manhattan and Brooklyn VA as his first order of business. 

Faced with an ongoing ‘quad-demic’ — RSV, Influenza, COVID-19, and the crises in standards of care — NNU and registered nurses say the hospital industry has to stop putting profit over patient care. They called the understaffing of nurses at VA hospitals unacceptable, negatively impacting veterans’ health.

The VA Hospital in Manhattan. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Raymonde Fletcher, a Vietnam vet and nurse of 42 years, has worked at the Manhattan VA Hospital for the past 28 years.

Fletcher, who also serves as the Manhattan Director of National Nurses United, said that nurses are getting burned out and want to leave. According to Fletcher, the Manhattan VA needs around 100 additional RNs. 

“Even though they’re working 12-hour shifts, they still can’t get to all of their patients,” Fletcher said. “They are coming to the point where they want to leave.”

Fletcher explained that nurses at VA hospital work six 12-hour shifts plus an 8-hour shift per pay period while at other hospitals nurses work don’t have to work an extra 8-hour shift.

Fletcher says the Manhattan VA doesn’t have a dedicated nurse recruiter, and that job applications “disappear into a dark hole down here.”  

“Even when a nurse is selected for a position proposition, the nurse has to call again and again and again to get a starting date,” Fletcher said. 

VA nurses rallied outside the Manhattan VA demanding more nurses. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

The staff shortage impacts veterans’ care and Navy vet James Young, who has been a nurse for 27 years and serves as Brooklyn Director of National Nurses United,  said they need about 50 additional nurses at the Brooklyn VA.  He said that nurses are advocates for the patients and community. 

“We’re having a big retention problem and we have a big issue of getting nurses to come,” Young said. 

Esteban Ramirez, an infection control nurse, said that many nurses are still dealing with the effects of the early days of COVID-19 and called the shortage of nurses a public health crisis. 

Ramirez pointed out that there are 4.4 million registered nurses in the United States. 

“According to the Department of Labor, there are 3.2 million working as nurses nationally,” Ramirez said. “That means that 1.2 million nurses are not working.” 

NNU is the nation’s largest union with 225,000 members and the leading voice in the fight to pass federal legislation to establish safe staffing and nurse-to-patient ratio standards.

VA nurses rallied outside the Manhattan VA demanding more nurses. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)