Hospital strike: 2,200 University of Chicago Medical Center nurses walk off the job

Hospital strike: 2,200 University of Chicago Medical Center nurses walk off the job

https://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-university-of-chicago-hospital-nurse-strike-20190920-7ddk2jacgbgsxea47kqwp6delu-story.html

Nurses at University of Chicago Medical Center — 2,200 of them — went on strike at 7 a.m. Friday, the first strike in the history of the 618-bed hospital, one of Chicago’s largest and most prestigious.

Hundreds of nurses wearing red shirts marched at the intersection of 58th Street and Maryland Avenue, holding signs that said, “On strike for my patients” and chanting, “What do we want? Safe staffing. When do we want it? Now.”

Though the nurses union called only a one-day strike, it will turn into a lockout. The nurses won’t be allowed to return to work until Wednesday morning because the hospital contracted with temporary nurses to take their places until that time.

The hospital spent the days leading up to the strike curtailing services in some areas. Dozens of babies and children who were in intensive care units were moved to other hospitals.

Nurses walk the picket line outside the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine at University of Chicago Medical Center on Sept. 20, 2019.
Nurses walk the picket line outside the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine at University of Chicago Medical Center on Sept. 20, 2019. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune)

The hospital went on full bypass late Wednesday, meaning it is asking ambulances to take new patients to other hospitals, including trauma patients — sparking concern from some in the community who spent years fighting for trauma services on the South Side.

It is also limiting transfers from other hospitals, temporarily closing some units, transferring some patients to other hospitals, and rescheduling some elective procedures.

Hospital spokeswoman Ashley Heher couldn’t say Friday whether the ambulance diversions and curtailed services would continue in the coming days. She said the hospital is continually assessing the situation. The union said that picketing would be limited to Friday.

The service cutbacks were necessary to ensure quality care for patients still in the hospital during the strike, said Dr. Stephen Weber, U. of C. Medicine’s chief medical officer.

“Fundamentally, no matter how many patients we’re caring for, we want to ensure the security and safety of each one of them,” Weber said.

He said he didn’t know Friday how many of the hospital’s beds were still occupied.

Some patients wove through the crowds of striking nurses early Friday to get to appointments at the hospital. A number stopped to take video on their phones of the chanting protesters.

Loeita Williams said she’s always been happy with the care she’s received at the hospital but she believes the nurses when they say they’re understaffed. The South Shore resident said she wasn’t concerned about the care she’d receive Friday because she was visiting for a straightforward appointment.

Renee Jackson, of Hyde Park, voiced her support for the strikers as she walked to her doctor’s office at the hospital Friday morning. She’s been particularly pleased with the nurses.

“I’ve seen them at work,” she said. “They deserve everything they’re asking for.”

Jean Greenberg watched the strike unfold from down the street Friday morning.

Her husband, who had lymphoma, was a patient at the hospital for years until he died in June. She said his nurses were excellent and she supports them in their strike, though she worried about the effects of the noise from the strike on arriving patients.

“If I had to bring my husband, as sick as he was, to this setting, it would have been very distressing,” Greenberg said.

Vivian Nunn, of the South Loop, visited the hospital Friday for a test. She said the strike didn’t have an impact on her care, but she could see how it might affect some patients. Nunn worked as an administrative assistant and clerk at the hospital more than 20 years ago.

“If I had to go to a regular floor and all the nurses were out here and we had temporary nurses in there, I’d be a little concerned,” Nunn said.

Still, she said she’s sure the temporary nurses are qualified, and she agrees with the striking nurses that they need more staff in certain departments.

The hospital said negotiations broke down late Wednesday over the issue of incentive pay for future job applicants. But Marti Smith, Midwest director of the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United, attributed the breakdown to disagreement on overtime and staffing issues that the nurses feel affect patient safety.

Marjorie Feria, who’s worked as an operating room nurse at the hospital for nearly five years, said nurses who usually work in the adult operating rooms are often expected to work in the pediatric operating rooms on weekends and holidays when pediatric operating nurses are short.

“It’s not optimal,” said Feria, standing outside the facility Friday morning. “As a nurse, patients trust you with their lives, and that’s something we all take seriously.”

Also outside the hospital was nurse Grazyna Cohen, who works with many cancer patients. She said she understands it would be expensive to hire more nurses but it’s time for the hospital to step up.

 

The hospital, it’s a financially, clinically, academically successful organization, and is in a position where they can very well afford to provide adequate staff,” Cohen said.

Racheal Feliz, a pediatric intensive care unit nurse, said it’s vital that nurses be able to provide the kind of care sick patients need.

″It’s important for us to be out here so we can fight for safe staffing ratios,” Feliz said.

A lineup of city aldermen, state lawmakers and other union leaders from across the city echoed the nurses’ comments at a rally outside the hospital midday Friday.

Weber disputed the nurses’ claim that more staffing is needed on a regular basis to keep patients safe.

“I think there’s very clear information that that’s just not the case,” Weber said. “The benchmarks show that nurse staffing is not our challenge. Like any place, we have other challenges but we’re going to keep directing our resources and investments based on the needs of our patients.”

Weber said Friday morning that things had gone smoothly at the hospital so far and that the hundreds of replacement nurses brought in to work during the strike had adjusted quickly.

Nurses will not return to the medical center until Wednesday because the hospital has said it needed to guarantee five days of work for replacement nurses in order to recruit as many as possible.

Hospital leaders said in a staff memo earlier this week that they had hoped to maintain normal hospital operations during the work stoppage.

But fewer replacement nurses were available than expected because nurses at about a dozen other hospitals across the country also planned to strike Friday, the memo stated. Also, the time between the notice of the strike and the day of the strike was shorter than it was during the last planned strike in 2015, the memo stated. That strike was averted shortly before it was scheduled to occur.

There was a similar nurses’ strike a number of years ago… as I remember in California… and their was AT LEAST ONE HORRIBLE ACCIDENT WHEN A PT DIED. There was this one female pts – very high acuity – and had both a central IV line and a implanted enteral feeding tube ( Jejunostomy feeding tube).  Somehow the “temporary nurse” got the two lines mixed  up and hooked up the enteral feeding to the IV tube and the IV bag to the enteral feeding tube…  While putting a IV solution into a enteral feeding tube will probably not do any harm – nor any good…. putting a enteral feeding solution in a IV line – WILL KILL YOU … which is what happened to this particular pt.  🙁

I am sure that there was numerous other “near misses”, that we did not hear about and hopefully this strike will not produce any “bad pt outcomes”

 

4 Responses

  1. These strikes have been postponed and suppressed for a long time. the media keeps these strikes secret or berates the strikers or belittles them. Corporate healthcare exploits not only the nurses, but doctors and patients too. Too many hospitals rely on under staffing, and suppressing collective action through illegal means to increase their profits. it is about time these workers stood up and protected their livelihoods and their patients by striking. These hospitals are operating like criminal organizations. Note that the physicians never speak up, they are not allowed to, they are under gag orders to keep their silence.

  2. I’m not usually in favor of striking but in this case the nurses are right. Hospitals say they can’t afford more nurses yet can pay their executives millions of dollars per year? Something is terribly wrong with this picture!!

  3. They could cut some of the adminstrator jobs/salaries. Hospital CEOs make huge salaries. Insane when you know these hospitals are raking in the money.

  4. The greed is so huge they will even squeeze our health care.

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