cook county health

Cook County Nurses Strike for 1 Day Over Staffing Issues

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Nearly 900 nurses with Cook County Health walked off the job for a one-day strike Thursday over staffing concerns amid contract negotiations.

The strike impacts hospitals including Stroger Hospital on Chicago's Near West Side, Provident Hospital on the South Side and Cermak Health Services on the Southwest Side.

The nurses represented by the National Nurses Organizing Committee are striking as they say negotiations at the bargaining table "have failed to adequately address the persistent lack of nursing staff" throughout the system, the union said in a statement.

To prepare for the strike, a Cook County Health spokeswoman said the system hired supplemental staff and rescheduled some elective procedures.

"We have augmented our staffing with agency nurses in key areas and have appropriate staff to meet our current patient care needs," a spokeswoman said in a statement. "To ensure patient safety and assess staffing, Stroger Hospital went on ambulance bypass for emergency department and advanced life support cases at 6:05 a.m. We will reevaluate bypass status every four hours. The hospital will continue to accept trauma cases."

"Some elective and non-urgent procedures or appointments have been rescheduled while some scheduled appointments will be accommodated via telehealth," the statement continued. "Staff have reached out to impacted patients. Patients who have specific questions about an appointment, test or procedure scheduled for Thursday should call 312-864-0200. Patients who are experiencing a medical emergency should call 911."

The nurses' contract expired seven months prior in November, with the union saying that although Cook County Health has hired nearly 800 nurses in the past year, they are still short hundreds more.

"We are working with a skeletal staff throughout our hospital," registered nurse and NNOC board member Martese Chism said. "We have far too few nurses working in our hospitals and clinics and we have witnessed a reduction of services over the last 10 years that have left many patients with few - if any - options. These reductions in services mean that care is delayed or missed entirely and people become sicker and have poorer outcomes."

Emergency room nurse Consuelo Vargas said Cook County Health's staffing guidelines say there should be 35 nurses in Stroger Hospital's ER at the start of each day, but that figure is often closer to 30, or as low as 22 to 25.

About 1,250 nurses were scheduled to walk off the job Thursday, but that number shrank after the Illinois Labor Relations Board ruled Tuesday that more than 300 of those nurses were vital to patient care. Cook County Health took the Board's findings to file an injunction in circuit court to stop those nurses from striking.

The nurse's union planned to appeal the Board's decision.

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