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Resident physicians go on strike at hospital once called ‘the epicenter of the epicenter’ of the country’s coronavirus pandemic

<i>Spencer Platt/Getty Images/FILE</i><br/>In a photo taken earlier this month
Spencer Platt/Getty Images/FILE
In a photo taken earlier this month

By Nicki Brown, CNN

(CNN) — About 155 resident physicians went on strike Monday at a New York hospital once called “the epicenter of the epicenter” of the nation’s coronavirus pandemic, according to the residents’ union.

The resident physicians at Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens don’t receive the same pay and benefits as their non-union counterparts working at other hospitals, according to Sunyata Altenor, the communications director for the Committee of Interns and Residents union.

Although Elmhurst is a municipal hospital, the residents are employed by Mount Sinai Health System through a partnership program, Altenor said.

“It feels so unjust that we, as largely immigrant doctors serving this working class immigrant community in Queens, have to beg to get what we need to pay our rent, and from a corporation like Mount Sinai that touts its commitment to New York communities,” Dr. Tanathun Kajornsakchai said in a statement last week.

About 63% of the population in the hospital’s neighborhood was born outside of the United States, according to government data included in a 2018 municipal report.

Dr. Irfa Khan said doctors don’t want to strike but have no choice if Mount Sinai won’t negotiate in good faith. The hospital has said it has been working in “good faith” and accused the union of being “inflexible.”

“We were here when Mount Sinai needed us, where is Mount Sinai when the Elmhurst doctors and community needs them?” Khan said in the union’s statement.

Khan told CNN affiliate WCBS at the picket line Monday that doctors work at both Elmhurst and Mount Sinai hospitals but are paid less.

“We’re doing the same work, we’re seeing the same patients … at the same two hospitals. We’re working along the same attendings (physicians),” she said. “Why not Elmhurst? Why is there a difference?”

The doctors, who are undergoing post-graduate training in their specialties, say they are paid $7,000 less than residents at Mount Sinai.

Mount Sinai Health System said in an online update last week it had offered the union “increasingly generous proposals” during 14 bargaining sessions spanning nearly a year. The statement said the union has been inflexible and its “demands have only grown or changed” during bargaining.

Mount Sinai said on Monday it is “committed to working towards an equitable and reasonable resolution that is in the best interest for both our residents at Elmhurst as well as for the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.”

On Monday, Elmhurst Hospital and its outpatient services that it will stay open without interruption.

“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,” a statement from the hospital said. “Access to care for the community is our top priority.”

In the spring of 2020, Elmhurst was called “the epicenter of the epicenter” of the country’s coronavirus outbreak, with then-mayor Bill de Blasio saying it had “borne the brunt more than any other hospital in the city.” At the time, the 545-bed hospital had increased its intensive care units’ capacity by 500%.

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CNN’s Steve Almasy contributed to this report.

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