About 2,200 nurses at the University of Chicago Medical Center went on strike Friday morning, causing the hospital to curtail services and transfer some patients to other hospitals.
The nurses’ union said it began a 24-hour strike at 7 a.m. ET Friday. Nurses and their supporters wearing red shirts gathered in front of the hospital, chanting and carrying signs.
But the striking nurses won’t be able to return to work until Wednesday morning, the hospital said, because it had to offer a five-day work guarantee to replacement nurses.
The 618-bed academic medical center is one of the most prestigious hospitals in Chicago. Its importance grew in 2018 when it became a Level 1 trauma center following a years-long effort by Southside residents and activists to reduce the travel time for victims of violence.
Unionized registered nurses at the hospital voted August 30 to go on strike. The union says some of the main issues are chronic short staffing, nurses being required to work overtime every week, and nurses being required to work outside their areas of expertise, which puts patients at risk, according to a news release on the union website.
“Nurses are not able to take lunch. Many times we’re not able to take breaks. We’re penalized if we take sick time. And you get burned out,” registered nurse Denise Summers told CNN affiliate WLS.
“We also have nurses that are taking care of sicker patients, so they have one to four when maybe they should be one to three,” Summers said.
The hospital had been negotiating with the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United for months. In a news release, the medical center denied staffing levels are a problem.
“We’re disheartened that we had to get to this point,” hospital President Sharon O’Keefe said. “We worked long and hard negotiating with the help of a federal mediator and had hoped union leadership would meet us halfway.”
The hospital went on “full bypass” Wednesday, asking ambulances to take patients to other hospitals.
To deal with the strike, the hospital said it limited virtually all transfers from community hospitals, closed some inpatient units, and rescheduled elective procedures. The medical center put the pediatric and adult emergency departments on bypass but continued to accept walk-in patients in those two departments.
Because of nurses’ strikes at other hospitals, the hospital had a smaller hiring pool for replacement workers, the medical center said.
The union said nurses were striking Friday at Tenent hospitals in Tucson, Arizona; Hialeah and Lauderdale Lakes, Florida; and Joshua Tree, Los Alamitos, Modesto, Palm Springs, San Luis Obispo, San Ramon, Templeton and Turlock, California.
CNN affiliate KGUN reported that about 900 nurses walked out of two hospitals in Tucson. The station said the strike was scheduled to last 24 hours at St. Joseph’s and St. Mary’s hospitals.