NEW YORK (PIX11) — New York City hospital nurses, who were on the frontlines of the COVID pandemic, are now facing a severe staffing shortage.

Nurses say staffing levels are dangerously low and are placing patients at risk. They sounded the alarm during a rally in front of City Hall on Wednesday, while a committee inside searched for a remedy.

Their chants were loud and clear. More than 100 registered nurses and health professional cried out for help, claiming that under staffing of nurses in the city’s hospitals is now a matter of life and death.

“We’re here today to sound the alarm about the nursing crisis in New York City hospitals,” Nancy Hagans, president of the New York State Nurses Association said. “More of the hospitals are understaffed than they have ever been.”

The numbers of vacancies at hospitals throughout the city have been surging since the pandemic. Nationally, the numbers reach into the thousands. 

“We’re understaffed. It’s compromising and making it unsafe, and we have to fight the battle,” Hagans said.

The NYS Nurses Association, whose 17,000 members have contracts that expire the end of the year, claims bosses are taking bonuses and big salaries and hiking prices at hospitals, but failing to hire enough nurses to keep patients safe.

As nurses chanted outside, inside the City Council’s Committee of Hospitals convened an oversight hearing.  Hagans, who is a registered nurse, talked about the hardships of being a nurse.

“What’s it like to be a nurse,” she asked. “It is to leave your home at 5:30 in the morning and you don’t get home until midnight or one in the morning. You know why? Because you don’t have anyone to replace you.”

Natalie Cinneas, chief nursing officer at NYC Health and Hospitals, testified that recruiting for new nurses is a priority.

“We are recruiting with our local schools, and working the pipeline for recruits,” Cinneas said. “We’re doing everything that we can possibly do trying to recruit aggressively and expeditiously.”

But the frustration mounts each day. The Nurses Association claims too many nurses are leaving and there are not enough to replace them.  NYC Council Speaker Adrienne Adams stood with the nurses.

“What is clear to all of us is that our nurses are burning out at a rate that is unsustainable for New York City,” Adams said.

The stress of the COVID pandemic has left many nurses burned out and some suffering from mental health ailments. With no immediate end in sight to the short-staffing crisis, it’s being estimated that there will be almost 200,000 openings for registered nurses nationally over the next nine years.