Sen. Bernie Sanders recently chaired a Senate committee hearing near the site of the ongoing nurse strike at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in New Jersey.
Hospital officials no-showed but submitted written testimony.
Sanders, nurses, and union leaders excoriated hospital officials and vowed to continue the strike, now approaching its 90th day.
Striking nurses in New Jersey were disappointed when executives from Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital failed to materialize to meet them in person. But it couldn’t have come as a great surprise.
This was, after all, a field hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Chaired by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a multi-time presidential candidate and unabashed ally of organized labor, the October 27 hearing came not from the usual buttoned-down halls of the Capitol but a raucous assembly hall near the hospital in New Brunswick, where the bitter, acrimonious strike between 1,700 union nurses and hospital and system execs is now approaching its 90th day.
The key issue in the strike is nurse-patient ratios, which nurses say are dangerously low. Union leaders are seeking to mandate specific nurse-patient ratios, a controversial measure gaining popularity nationwide amid growing evidence of its effectiveness in improving patient outcomes.
What this strike has everything to do with [for nurses] is the safety of their patients, Sanders said in his opening remarks. With tears in their eyes, these nurses have told me they are simply unable to provide the quality of care they want to provide and the care their patients deserve. And the reason for that is the totally inadequate nurse-patient ratios that they are forced to deal with.
During often-heated testimony, nurse and union leaders, as well as the Senator himself, threw broadside after broadside toward hospital leaders. One of the key points of discussion was a recent letter from Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital CEO Alan Lee acknowledging that the hospital had spent $103 million on travel nurses since the strike began to fill staffing gaps.
(Hospital administrators submitted written testimony to the committee, including Mark Manigan, president and chief executive officer of RWJBarnabas Health, the hospital’s parent system, who had been trading barbs in the media with Sanders in the lead-up to the hearing.)
With emotions running high and frustration building over a lack of progress at the bargaining table, here are the 10 most explosive, incisive, most revealing, and most telling quotes from New Brunswick.
The Top 10 Quotes from Bernie Sanders’ Hearing at the Robert Wood Johnson Hospital Nurse Strike