AUBURN — Dozens of people filled the Regional Economic Center building of Cayuga Community College Tuesday night in support of Auburn Community Hospital nurses seeking an increase in staffing and safer working conditions.
Some spoke before Cayuga County legislators during the body's full meeting, asking for their support as the nurses represented by 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East negotiate a new contract with the hospital.
"The nurses are burning out," said Kelly Ludeman, a registered nurse with ACH for 33 years. "The new nurses aren't staying. They're leaving. They're going to Syracuse where they can have five patients on their roll, or four patients, or six patients at most, where the staffing ratios are better."
Currently, she said, the hospital is utilizing a staffing grid that was created during contract negotiations about a decade ago. Since then, nursing has transformed, she said. Paperwork has turned electronic, positions have been cut and a larger workload falls into the laps of the bedside nurse.
She said the staffing grid stipulated the minimum number of nurses per patients on the floor, and if those numbers fell, the nurses would receive a premium pay bonus. The hospital, Ludeman continued, told staff that would never happen, but that has not been the case.
Ken Spurgeon, vice chair of the union and a registered nurse for ACH, said more than 50 percent of the time, nurses are short-staffed. He said he and others are not looking to divide the community, but said people need to be aware that the business model has changed.
With the meeting room too small to accommodate all of the supporters, applause could be heard in the hall after the nurses spoke. Following their statements at the meeting, union members and others held a candlelight vigil outside of the building.
In a statement to The Citizen Tuesday night, ACH spokesperson Matt Chadderdon reiterated that the hospital has maintained safe staffing levels in accordance with the existing labor contract.
"At the heart of all we do at Auburn Community Hospital, is ensuring a safe and positive patient experience," he wrote. "Auburn Community Hospital employees and physicians remain committed to the safety and well-being of the patients we are privileged to serve. We will never risk patient safety or quality of care."
AUBURN — For the second time in six months, corrections officers and their union leaders gathered outside Auburn Correctional Facility to promote prison staff safety.
On Tuesday afternoon, the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association held an information picket at the maximum-security prison in Auburn. According to NYSCOPA's communications director, James Miller, the goal was to show support and solidarity for better staffing, safer working conditions and the reduction of inmate discipline sanctions.
Dozens of ACF employees were joined by civilian staff outside the facility Tuesday, wearing white T-shirts that read "Auburn In Unity" and holding signs that said "Mismanagement threatens public safety" and "No discipline = no deterrent = no control."
NYSCOPBA Western Region Vice President Joe Miano said the union decided to have another picket at the prison to show that the conditions at ACF have not improved.
"It's actually gotten worse," Miano said. "We want the public to know that the inmates we're dealing with on a daily basis — whether you're a teacher, a nurse, a maintenance man or a corrections officer — it's getting more and more dangerous every day."
Since NYSCOPBA's last picket in March, Miano said there have been more than 250 incidents at the prison; that includes 25 assaults on staff, 57 assaults on inmates, 11 visitor arrests, 60 uses of force and 111 incidents involving drugs and weapons.
The union made the same arguments at Tuesday's picket, claiming that the increase in violence and contraband is due to a decrease in discipline. Miano said the officers are specifically asking for additional staffing and technology at ACF, including full-body scanners.
"We are voicing our concerns with the condition of this facility," he said. "The conditions haven't changed."
In response, the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision issued a statement, comparing statistics from January to August of 2015 to the same time frame in 2017. According to DOCCS' Director of Public Information Thomas Mailey, the number of inmate on staff assaults has dropped 52 percent (from 48 in 2015 to 25 in 2017) while the number of use of force incidents decreased 13 percent (from 104 in 2015 to 90 in 2017).
"The number of assaults on Auburn facility staff, use of force incidents and staff injuries during uses of force have all decreased dramatically over the past two years," Mailey said. "These declines can be attributed to the hard working staff at Auburn, as well as key investments in additional security staffing, technology and training."
Some of those investments include new de-escalation tactics and a pepper spray program, Mailey said. In addition, the spokesperson said DOCCS has added 26 new security jobs at Auburn in the last two years.
"Millions of dollars have been invested in technology like Cellsense — a portable contraband detector — heartbeat detectors and thermos-imaging devices," Mailey said. "Appropriate staffing levels are continuously reviewed. ... (We maintain) an inmate to correction officer ratio of approximately three to one, among the lowest ratios in the nation."
AUBURN — Cayuga Community College President Brian Durant found himself in front of county legislators for more than 20 minutes at the body's full meeting Tuesday night with part of that time discussing the new endeavor of a baseball team.
The Auburn City Council approved a resolution last week approving two agreements to lease the fields at Falcon Park and Casey Park for the upcoming baseball team and the college's current softball team. While Auburn Mayor Mike Quill called the agreements "a great partnership," legislators did not seem so enthused.
Legislator Michael Didio asked Durant about whether the college was considering adding student housing, to which Durant said no. He added that he did not believe a team of 25 to 30 student athletes would be a factor.
"Until we do some other work, we're not ready," Durant said.
Legislator Andrew Dennison said he didn't understand how the college planned to attract talent for the team if there was no student housing.
"No kids are going to come from 300, 400 miles away," he said. "I can't see you having one (a baseball team) without the other (housing) myself."
Durant said he believed there would be a combination of talent from afar and locally. This, too, is one of the college's ways to bolster its offerings to attract more students, he had explained.
Durant expects recruiting to begin soon with the lease on the fields to begin March 1, 2019. The agreements do not interfere with the Auburn Doubledays' schedule or recreational teams utilizing the fields.
In other news:
• Legislators honored the great-great grandniece of Harriet Tubman by proclaiming Sept. 26 Pauline Copes Johnson Day. Recently celebrating her 90th birthday, Chairman Keith Batman read the proclamation detailing some of the highlights of her life. The first African American telephone operator for the state telephone company in Cayuga County, Johnson broke barriers in her own right. It wasn't until she was 26 that she learned she was related to the renowned abolitionist, and since has educated the public about her great-great grandaunt.
Johnson did not address the body as she had a scratchy throat, but she was all smiles as she accepted the proclamation while standing between Legislator Tim Lattimore and Didio.
• The Center for Governmental Research, a firm the county hired in June to help identify restructuring opportunities, presented before legislators, county department heads and the public prior to the Cayuga County Legislature meeting Tuesday night.
Joseph Stefko, president of the company, said the firm's role was to bring an outside set of eyes to the county and see where there may be cost savings or where more work and results could come out of what's already being invested.
"Sometimes you tend to lose sight of the forest for the trees," he said.
Having completed between 70 and 80 similar projects, he hopes to present a report of opportunities the county can consider by February next year. So far CGR has interviewed almost all department heads, and will be collecting feedback from county staff and the public online at cgr.org/cayuga.
After a terrorist bomb plot was foiled in Australia, U.S. Rep. John Katko wants to know which international airports with flights to the United States are struggling to meet security standards.
Katko, R-Camillus, has asked federal officials to provide a ranking of the 10 worst last point of departure airports that aren't meeting International Civil Aviation Organization security guidelines. The request was made at the conclusion of a House Subcommittee on Transportation and Protective Security hearing Tuesday.
During the hour-long meeting, Katko quizzed three experts on the aviation security standards and whether the guidelines should be raised to address new vulnerabilities.
Jennifer Grover, director of homeland security and justice for the U.S. Government Accountability Office, acknowledged that the international standards are comprehensive and provide a baseline for airports. She explained that Transportation Security Administration inspectors assess each airport's implementation of the regulations.
She also noted that aviation security isn't just the airports' responsibility.
"Even if there's vulnerabilities at an airport, that doesn't necessarily mean the flight departing that airport is not secure because the air carriers can fill in as a backstop," Grover said.
That comment concerned Katko, who acknowledged that airlines have an incentive to maintain strict security guidelines. He cited recent plots that have been foiled or carried out at airports, especially in the Middle East. One incident was the MetroJet bombing in 2015.
ISIS, a Middle Eastern terrorist group, carried out the attack that brought down the MetroJet airliner. Authorities said employees at the Egyptian airport the plane originated from smuggled a bomb onto the aircraft.
With the existing security threats and potential for another devastating attack, Katko asked Grover if the international aviation security standards should be bolstered.
"Given that there are airports that are currently not meeting the ICAO standards regularly that are in place now, I'm not sure that raising them across the board would necessarily help lift up those airports," she said.
Grover added that TSA is working with the last point of departure airports to "enhance efforts to meet current ICAO standards."
But Katko disagreed with Grover's position.
"I don't think we should be in a situation of just simply saying they can't meet the ICAO standards as they are now so there's no sense of raising them," he said. "That's not what we should do."
Katko said that security vulnerabilities are becoming more difficult to detect. One reason for Tuesday's hearing was the recent terrorist plot that was foiled in Australia. ISIS operatives attempted to smuggle an improvised explosive device onto a plane departing from Sydney.
The Australian plot highlights the need for increased security measures, Katko said in his opening remarks.
"We must always strive to lead because raising the aviation security standard around the globe will ultimately keep America safe," he said.