UPPER EAST SIDE, Manhattan (WABC) -- A vigil was held Wednesday night in Manhattan by nurses on the front line of New York's battle with mental illness.
Outside Gracie Square Hospital, a psychiatric hospital, on the Upper East Side Wednesday night, nurses threatened to walk off the job.
"A lot of people won't do this job," nurse Jakki Battice said. "A lot of people won't deal with psych patients even in regular hospitals."
But Battice considers treating mentally ill patients her calling. The problem is, she says staffing levels at Gracie, where she's worked for seven years, are dangerously low.
"It's about the safety of the patients," Battice said. "It's about our safety. We need a better contract so we can better take care of them."
With the city facing a mental health crisis, facilities like this have been filling every bed, many with patients who haven't taken meds or might be prone to violence.
Nurses, who say they've been working without a contract since May, were voting Wednesday night on whether or not to authorize a strike.
They're looking for more pay, but also more staff.
Any given nurse can have more than 10 patients at once. State guidelines suggest no more than six.
"We are so far over the amount that's safe and all the management is doing is pushing how wonderful, thanks for all you do, and here's another fleece jacket, here's another umbrella," nurse Jack Cacamis said. "Give us people."
The hospital is affiliated with the healthcare behemoth New York-Presbyterian, which released a statement Wednesday night.
"We continue to bargain in good faith with union leadership to reach a new contract. We remain hopeful that we can achieve a fair agreement that recognizes and rewards our nurses for the important role they play in our hospital's delivery of exceptional care," the statement read.
Nurses and management will return to the negotiating table on Monday. If the nurses decide to strike, they'll have to give 10 days notice before they walk off the job.