© 2024 Western New York Public Broadcasting Association

140 Lower Terrace
Buffalo, NY 14202

Mailing Address:
Horizons Plaza P.O. Box 1263
Buffalo, NY 14240-1263

Buffalo Toronto Public Media | Phone 716-845-7000
WBFO Newsroom | Phone: 716-845-7040
Your NPR Station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

From 'hero to zero': 17-year Mercy Hospital nurse shares why workers continue to strike

A nurse with short blond hair in blue scrubs looks at a mother holding her baby, who is sitting in a hospital chair.
Tammy Kowalik
Nurse Tammy Kowalik and a patient talk in an undated photo.

One long-time nurse from Mercy Hospital on Tuesday shared with WBFO something the union has also been expressing since their strike began last week: workers want to be back to work and the staffing situation made nurses feel like they went from "hero to zero" this past year.

Tammy Kowalik has worked at Mercy Hospital for 17 years as a registered nurse. Last week she saw the maternity ward she works in slowly became empty in preparation for the looming strike.

"I would say that in the very first years of working at Mercy, you felt like you had time to spend. And over the last several years, even pre-pandemic, it seems like the staffing, some days, even if we had enough staff, they may be pulled to different units that aren't so staffed," Kowalik said. "So sometimes I find that staff can be just displaced. And some days you don't even know where you're going to be. And it's not the unit that you usually are working on.”

Nine people stand all wearing red and holding picket signs.
Tammy Kowalik
Tammy Kowalik (center) is pictured with her other picketers at the CWA Mercy Hospital picket line.

Kowalik said she loves her job. She’d rather be on the floor of her ward than on the sidewalk outside of her hospital this week. But the working conditions weren’t just impacting the workers, it was impacting the care workers are able to provide, too.

“Sometimes it's so rushed or condensed that you have to kind of pick and choose and only do bare minimum or give just enough information and then hopefully pass it on to either home care or their pediatrician or their own OB doctor," she said. "So it's like, I don't want to say cutting corners, but everything gets so condensed. And it's just not that full circle of guidance and dedication that we want to give.”

She said at the heart of what they’re fighting for in a new contract is less disconnect between the workers and management.

“I mean, even, let's say the start of the pandemic, when there was so much put on, you know, 'heroes, frontline heroes.' And it's like everything totally flipped that everyone feels like they went from hero to zero in a year," Kowalik said. "And I think it's because you have this huge division between administration and management and CEOs, that they don't really see what goes on, what it takes."

17-year Mercy Hospital nurse shares experiences with staffing issues, reasons for strike and contract negotiations
WBFO’s Emyle Watkins spoke with a long-time nurse from the hospital, who says the staffing situation made nurses feel like they went from "hero to zero" this past year. But, she’s finding hope in the contract negotiations.

Catholic Health also shared a written statement, saying that staffing concerns are not unique to Catholic Health, but they will continue to recruit and work with the union. Catholic Health also stated that the union has not yet responded in writing to the health system’s proposed wage and benefit package.

Kowalik said she feels disappointed the strike has gotten to day five. However, there is also hope in anticipation.

“I feel like I have a privilege, a special gift to be a part of building families," she said. "I always think, the new moms and dads that I get to meet and work with, it's helping them build their family and welcome their new little one into the world. It really is a very special occasion. And so being able to be part of it feels like a gift. And I look forward to every day is brand new and exciting. And I can't wait to get back to doing that.”

Emyle Watkins is an investigative journalist covering disability for WBFO.