Sunday , July 25 2021

Chicago county faces one-two punch of nurse strikes

County-run Stroger Hospital went on ambulance bypass for its emergency department and advanced life support cases this morning, meaning it’s sending patients to other hospitals. The facility, which will continue to accept trauma cases, will reevaluate bypass status every four hours.

The union says the public health network, which also owns Provident hospital, is understaffed, leading surgeries to be canceled and experienced workers to leave the system.

Consuelo Vargas, an emergency department nurse at Stroger says that staffing has been an issue for the past several years.

“I’ve had an emergency department run with 14 nurses, when it should have 28 to 35 nurses,” she said. “On our worst day we only had 10, that is just unsustainable.” 

Cook County Health said in a statement Wednesday that it would augment staffing with skilled agency nurses in priority areas, including trauma, emergency, operating rooms and inpatient units. The county also has rescheduled, or will use telemedicine, for some elective and non-urgent procedures or appointments.

“Like other healthcare organizations, CCH is in continual recruitment of nurses,” the health system’s statement says. “We have onboarded nearly 800 nurses over the past year to provide critical patient care services in our hospitals and health centers as well as in the community to administer COVID-19 vaccines.”

Separately, county workers represented by Service Employees International Union Local 73 plan a strike Friday that will likely drag on for more than a day. SEIU wants Cook County to agree to “meaningful wage increases, proposals that respect equal pay for equal work, and agree to affordable health insurance,” the union said in a Tuesday statement. 

Around 25 percent of SEIU workers are under a temporary restraining order not to strike, mostly those working at Cook County Health and the county sheriff’s department, according to a statement. The union represents around 2,500 workers. 

SEIU said in a statement yesterday that the county canceled bargaining on Wednesday, and that the union was prepared to go on an indefinite strike beginning Friday morning.

In response to workers pushing back against an increase in employee contributions for health care, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said in a statement last week that “we have not asked employees for an increase in six years, even though our costs have increased. This is needed in this round of bargaining.” 

This story has been updated to correct the number of nurses on strike. 

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