Today’s news:

Nurses nix planned strike at NYHQ to resume talks

Further strain on the Queens hospital system may have been averted Friday as nurses from Local 1199 SEIU at New York Hospital of Queens agreed to call off a strike planned for Monday and return to negotiations with the hospital administration.

Tensions had mounted between the Flushing hospital and more than 700 nurses employed at the facility as contractual negotiations centered around pension payments hit a snag leading 1199 SEIU to threaten a three−day strike beginning Monday.

With St. John’s Queens Hospital in Elmhurst and Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica expected to stop taking emergency room patients this weekend, any disruption to the Queens health care system could have been “catastrophic,” according to Queens elected officials.

But both sides involved in the dispute agreed to return to the negotiating table after a coalition of elected officials, led by U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D−Bayside), sent a letter to SEIU President George Gresham and New York Hospital of Queens President Stephen Mills, calling for “a cooling down period.”

The coalition stressed that the remaining borough hospitals must operate at full capacity to accommodate the anticipated burden created by the gradual closing of St. John’s and Mary Immaculate.

“We simply cannot allow New York Hospital Queens to shut down or reduce its operations at this time,” said the letter, signed by Ackerman, state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D−Whitestone), state Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D−Flushing) and City Councilman John Liu (D−Flushing.) “Therefore, we ask you on behalf of the residents of Queens to put aside your dispute temporarily and continue full operations as we focus on our sustaining health care system in these difficult times.”

“We all recognize the dire health care crisis that Queens residents currently face,” Gresham said in a statement. “The possible closure of St. John’s and Mary Immaculate hospitals is impacting all area hospitals, particularly now that both hospitals will begin diverting emergency room services to other institutions as soon as [Saturday]. In the shared interest of avoiding any disruption in services to the Queens community, 1199 is returning to the negotiating table in good faith.”

Earlier Friday, the dispute seemed doomed to end in a strike, which would have seen more than 700 registered nurses walk off the job at New York Hospital of Queens for a three−day period beginning Monday. NYHQ said it had already entered into a contract with another nursing agency that would provide temporary assistance to the medical center in the event of a strike.

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e−mail at sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 138.

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