For the first time in over 30 years, physicians in New York City are on strike. On Monday, more than 150 resident physicians at Elmhurst Hospital Center went on strike to protest low pay — a development the physicians say was spurred by their pandemic experiences.
On Monday, more than 150 resident physicians from the departments of internal medicine, pediatrics, and psychiatry went on strike at Elmhurst Hospital. According to the New York Times, the strike is scheduled to last five days and comes after months of contract negotiations from the residents' union, the Committee of Interns and Residents.
The physicians, who are employed by Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine, said they are striking over unequal pay compared to their counterparts at private hospitals in the city. Currently, first year residents at Elmhurst earn an annual salary of roughly $68,000 while residents at Mount Sinai's main campus earn $75,000.
"Our patient load is all the same," said Sarah Hafuth, one of the leaders of the strike. "We see the same medical pathologies, the same complexity. So we're at a point where we're quite frustrated about why Mount Sinai is willing to pay the residents on the Upper East Side more than us."
The physicians are also requesting other benefits, such as safe rides home after a long work shift and hazard pay during medical crises, such as severe COVID-19 surges. During the early days of the pandemic, Elmhurst was known as the "epicenter of the epicenter" of the COVID-19 outbreak, reaching over 500% capacity in its ICU at one point.
According to the striking residents, their experiences during the pandemic have made them more willing to challenge their salaries and be more involved with activism and organizing.
"The pandemic was an eye-opener," Hafuth said. "Physicians really started to question our worth and asking, 'Are we getting the support we need, given the situation we're in?'"
Separately, around 500 resident physicians at Mount Sinai Morningside/West have authorized a similar strike over low pay, although it's currently unclear if or when the strike will occur.
As the residents strike, Elmhurst Hospital said that it will remain open without interruptions to care. Michael Leitman, the dean of graduate medical education at Mount Sinai, noted that other residents have signed up to work shifts at Elmhurst during the strike.
"While we hope they reach an agreement to end the strike, we are fully prepared and have planned ahead to provide the necessary staff coverage," Elmhurst said. "Access to care for the community is our top priority."
In a statement, Mount Sinai spokesperson Lucia Lee said the said health system was "committed to working toward an equitable and reasonable resolution that is in the best interest for both our residents at Elmhurst as well as for the Mount Sinai Health System."
According to Lee, the health system is offering residents a 19.1% compounded increase in pay over three years, which is "commensurate or above the tentative agreement between residents at Jamaica and Flushing Hospitals." (Goldstein, New York Times, 5/22; ABC7, 5/22; AP/ABC News, 5/22; Brown, CNN, 5/22; Keleshian/Fan, CBS News, 5/22)
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