An estimated 2,200 nurses at the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) walked off the job on Friday morning in what was the first strike in history at one of city’s largest hospitals.
The hospital said the nurses union called a one-day strike after negotiations broke down on the issue of incentive pay for future job applicants, the Chicago Tribune reported.
However, Marti Smith, Midwest director of the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United, told the outlet that the strike followed disagreements about things the nurses feel impact patient safety — overtime and staffing.
Registered nurses at UCMC say short-staffing is a chronic problem at the facility.
“Since January 2017, UCMC nurses have filled out more than 1,500 reports detailing their concerns about how staffing levels might lead to adverse outcomes for their patients,” National Nurses United said in a press release.
The staffing issues reportedly delayed chemotherapy treatment for cancer patients and made nurses unable to properly monitor patients in intensive care units.
“What do we want? Safe staffing. When do we want it? Now,” the strikers chanted.
— Jose M Osorio (@JoseMOsorio) September 20, 2019
“We have offered the hospital a staffing proposal that would allow us to provide the highest quality of care to our patients, but management not only rejected our proposal, but failed to offer a counterproposal,” said Johnny Webb, a registered nurse. “We hope this strike sends a clear message to UCMC: We are not backing down and we will continue to fight and advocate for our patients.”
The facility cut down on services in some areas and moved dozens of babies and children in intensive care units to other hospitals, the Tribune reported. Some elective procedures were rescheduled and some units where patients typically stay overnight were temporarily closed.
Officials have also put the hospital on full bypass and are asking ambulances to take new patients to other hospitals in the region.
The strike has evoked into a lockout, according to the Tribune, meaning the nurses won’t be allowed to work until Wednesday morning because the temporary replacement nurses hired were guaranteed five days of work.
“We’re disheartened that we had to get to this point,” UCMC President Sharon O’Keefe said in a statement. “We worked long and hard negotiating with the help of a federal mediator and had hoped union leadership would meet us half way. We now have to focus our efforts on safely operating our hospitals and caring for the patients who depend on us.”