CHICAGO -- Going into our nation's recession, health care was said to be one of the few occupations that would be immune to cutbacks, but 450 jobs were lost Monday at the University of Chicago Medical Center, an institution struggling with downward-trending revenue and an endowment fund that recently took a big hit.
The cuts, aimed to reduce the hospital's annual budget by $100 million, represent about 5 percent of the Hyde Park hospital’s nearly 10,000 workers.
The 570-bed hospital will eliminate the capacity for more than 30 beds in the general-medicine and intensive-care units, CEO James Madara said. Some patients with less complex ailments like diabetes will be treated at other South Side hospitals, Crain's Chicago Business reported.
Madara claims that he's doing it proactively and dramatically so it doesn't have to be repeated.
Lost Monday were medical records clerks, cleaning crews and nurses. Jobs vacated through attrition will not be filled. Another 15 senior staff members already received pink slips.
"These are tough conversations to have," Madara said. "This is, I have to say, the most difficult period of my career."
The hundreds of millions of dollars in construction underway on the campus will not be affected.
"My job is to protect the jewel of the University of Chicago Medical Center, from cutting-edge research to high technology platforms. All of these things require continued investment," Madara said.
But unions affected by the job cuts and even students are not taking the cuts lightly, spending Monday afternoon distributing leaflets and organizing for a protest for midday Tuesday.
"This is tragic for our workers," said Local 743 Union President Richard Berg, who claims the university is overstating its problem.
"They continue to make money. They're not having the same kind of financial problems that General Motors or other people are having," Berg said.
But an executive of the nurses union worries that the University of Chicago will soon be joined by other medical centers facing tough times.
"Non-bargaining hospitals, from what I'm hearing from people in the different consortiums, their employees are being hit a lot harder," said Elwood Thompson with the Illinois Nurses Association.