Parents Seek Answers After Baby Dies at Mount Sinai During NYC Nurses Strike

Manhattan's Mount Sinai Hospital was one of two major NYC hospitals where thousands of nurses went on strike for several days last month

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As striking nurses picketed outside Manhattan’s Mount Sinai Hospital on Jan. 11, the parents of 4-month-old Noah Morton say they were at their sick baby’s bedside, only mildly aware of the work stoppage.

Speaking exclusively to the NBC New York I-Team, Craige Morton and his wife Saran say they had every reason to believe their son, who had spent his entire short life in the hospital’s neonatal ICU with a heart condition, was improving, or at least stable.

But late that evening the parents say they got a call from Mount Sinai staff saying Noah died.

"It seemed so sudden," said Noah's father Craige of his son's death.

"I was surprised,"  Noah's mother Saran said. “I thought he was getting better. They basically had just said that he was looking pale.”

Baby Noah and his parents (Credit: Family Photo)

The parents say the hospital told them their son had died while they were trying to insert a line to give him blood, but the effort was unsuccessful and the baby's heart stopped.

Now, three weeks after Noah's death, Craige and Saran were surprised again. This time, to learn Mount Sinai is conducting an internal review into the hospital's handling of their son's care that day.

"We weren’t aware there was any investigation going on,” Noah's mother told the I-Team on Tuesday.

The family is now anxious to see whether the hospital's review will show whether the work stoppage or any other factors contributed to their son's death.  

"If they know that his care was impacted by the strike, we would like to know,” Saran said.

A hospital spokesman described the ongoing review as "a Root Cause Analysis," intended to double-check whether mistakes were made.

He said most deaths in the NICU would trigger this type of inquiry, but not all.   

An internal communication viewed by the I-Team seemed to suggest hospital officials had decided to take a closer look at this case after concerns were initially raised about Noah's care

One hospital insider familiar with the case said,  like most deaths in a NICU, there were several factors that led to this baby’s passing, but better preparation for the strike might have given the 4-month-old a better chance to survive.  The source declined to describe each specific contributor to death, but said there were missed opportunities to communicate subtle warning signs of his deteriorating condition earlier -  in a hospital that was stretched thin.

"They essentially tied one hand behind our backs," the hospital insider said. "Senior executives put all these providers, doctors, nurses, the people caring for these babies, in an impossible situation."

Hospital management warned from the outset that a nurses' strike could be dangerous, especially for the fragile patients in the NICU who require intense, specialized care. 

Despite the recent strike by 7,000 nurses, seniors at Iona University say they are ready to make a difference in patient's lives. Lynda Baquero reports.

Sinai transferred some babies to other medical facilities to lower the workload in anticipation of the strike, but dozens remained, some described by insiders as “too sick to move.” 

A Sinai representative says during the strike, the NICU was fully staffed with solid, 1-to-1 nurse-to-baby ratios, adding that all of the replacement nurses in the NICU during the strike were trained in neonatal intensive care. 

But two hospital insiders tell the I-Team some of the replacement NICU nurses had no NICU experience.  

The insiders do not blame the replacement staff, nor the unionized nurses, but rather a failure to hire more -  and more experienced - temporary staff and to have them in place before a strike that had been looming for weeks.

“The higher level leadership places importance on profit before patients and their staff. And the outcome for this baby was a devastating consequence of that mentality," said one of them."

More than 7,000 nurses went back to the bedside after a three day strike having finally accepted a deal. Melissa Russo reports.

During the 3-day work stoppage, health staff inside the hospital and those demonstrating outside shared social media posts suggesting some healthcare delivery had become more stressful or chaotic, describing “near misses.”  One source said a baby was accidentally given the wrong breast milk.

Mount Sinai insisted their strike preparations were sufficient, even as one nurse said on social media that they quit after one day because the patient load was too much.

On Day 3 of the strike, just a few hours before Noah died, progress at the bargaining table had seemed elusive.  Sinai's nurses were holding out for a better deal, including improved staffing ratios. At 6 p.m. that day, Sinai management sent an email, reviewed by the I-Team, which seemed to hold the line on the hospital administration’s bargaining position.

"We want this strike to end, but we cannot afford to offer more than is fair," the email said. "Meanwhile, operations are becoming increasingly stable. Hundreds of additional travel nurses are arriving and are being oriented today and tomorrow."

A few hours later, Noah's parents say they received word of his death. After a few hours more, word got out that a deal had been reached between hospital management and the nurses union.

"There was no indication they planned to settle," said one insider. "A lot of people in the hospital can't help but wonder if this was what expedited an agreement.”

The Mount Sinai spokesman said the baby in question was a very sick patient from birth, and the timing of his death had absolutely no influence on the decision to reach a deal with striking nurses.  The hospital also noted a similar labor deal was hammered out with nurses at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx at the same time on January 11th.

Baby Noah and mom
The Morton Family
Baby Noah and mom

Noah’s parents said their son was born with a hole in his heart, and during his time in the Mount Sinai NICU doctors were trying to strengthen his breathing capabilities in preparation for surgery to close that hole. They told the I-Team they believe their child received compassionate care from both permanent and temporary staff.  

When asked why the family had not been told about the internal hospital inquiry, the same hospital spokesman said Mount Sinai reached out to the family Tuesday, which was the same day the review became public.  He added that they had not contacted the family sooner, because the review was not complete.    

The Mount Sinai rep did not say whether the internal inquiry into the baby’s death would include a review of how the nurse strike may or may not have impacted his care, but he said there is no reason to think the work stoppage played a role. He added that the hospital generally does not comment on internal investigations, at least until they are completed.

As they await details on the hospital’s review, the parents of baby Noah are struggling financially to find resources to give their son a proper burial. They’ve started a GoFundMe page in hopes of raising the money for a funeral they weren’t yet mentally prepared for.

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