Nursing Strike in Chicago: Why Illinois Nurses Hit Picket Line

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On September 7th, the working contract between the Illinois Nurses Association (INA) and the University of Illinois Hospital came to an official end while negotiations were unsuccessful to reach an acceptable agreement for both sides. On Saturday, September 12, the INA nurses went on strike in Chicago.

The University of Illinois Hospital is a large facility housing 462 licensed beds and is a general medical and surgical facility and a level two trauma center. It is also home to the Children’s Hospital of Illinois that houses 101 pediatric specialty beds and a NICU with 55 beds.

Not All Nurses Are on Strike

The strike though unwelcome, was not unanticipated.  The INA made the decision to strike in late August and filed a ten-day notice of “intent to strike”. The hospital’s board responded by filing a lawsuit attempting to block the strike citing the strike would pose a clear danger to public health, but the measure mostly failed. Originally around 1,300 nurses were planning to participate in the strike, but one judge in Cook County ruled that some critical care nurses could not participate for fear of critical care patient safety. Nurses from the COVID 19 medical and surgical unit, the bone marrow transplant unit, the pediatric intensive care unit, and the labor and delivery unit were all barred from participating in the strike.

Why Did 800 Nurses Go on Strike?

Nurses participating in the strike have cited concerns for access to appropriate PPE, overburdened staff, nurse to patient ratios, and low morale. More than 800 nurses walked off the job and are participating in the strike and as a result the hospital is bringing in travel nurses and PRN nurses from other locations to fill the work gap as the INA has stated they intend a 7-day strike.

Nurse to Patient Ratios Vs Patient Acuity Based Model

According to Doris Carroll, president of the Illinois Nurses Association and a nurse at the University of Illinois Hospital, “Daycare operators have ratios, right. You can’t have more than eight or nine infants. Dog kennels have ratios. Why can’t hospitals have ratios? We have two decades of research to support that having adequate nurses at the bedside will prevent falls, will prevent infections, will prevent deaths– in a hospital mind you”.

Though nurse to patient ratios appear to be a sticking point in negotiations, the hospital prefers an approach called a “patient acuity based model” indicating that ratios don’t allow for the necessary flexibility in staffing and patient care.

CEO of the University of Illinois Hospital, Michael Zenn said in a statement that nurse to patient ratios “…ignore fair workload distribution among peers on a shift to shift basis. Nurse staffing ratios also result in longer Emergency Department wait times, increased ambulance diversion hours, reduced patient services, and higher operating costs.”

 INA and the University of Illinois Hospital History

This isn’t the first time the University hospital and the INA have had trouble negotiating the employment contract. In 2017, a nurse strike was also planned, but ultimately negotiations proved successful. The contract negotiations three years prior to the one in 2017 also almost led to a strike, saved only by a last-minute deal.

More Join the Nursing Strike

After three days of a nurses strike, the University of Illinois took another blow. Monday morning (September 14), more than 4,000 additional employees went on strike. These employees were other health workers, maintenance workers, clerical workers, technical workers, and professional employees all part of the Service Employees International Union Local 73 stating they had been without an active contract for a year and they want wage increases, safer working conditions, and adequate staffing levels.

Strike Nursing Jobs

It is in times like these that healthcare systems rely even more heavily on PRN staffing agencies and travel nursing agencies. For this strike, the University of Illinois hospital has pulled in over 500 travel nurses from other states, some of them even coming from COVID-19 hotspots. A hospital facility that large has to be resourceful to fill this large of an employment gap.

Understandably at this point, the hospital went on ambulance bypass status, which means ambulances in emergency response situations are being routed to take their patients to other hospitals. They’ve also had to cancel some of their scheduled elective surgeries and procedures as well which is certainly an unwanted decision financially. Considering that most big hospitals and healthcare systems earn a large percentage of their profits from elective procedures and had to shut down all elective procedures earlier this year during the first COVID 19 wave.

NursaTM Fills Nursing Gaps

At NursaTM we understand the necessity for nursing unions. They represent and protect the nurses’ best interests and safety. Since COVID-19 hit America, there have been disturbing reports nationwide of nurses working without proper PPE and we know that nurse staffing shortages, while not a new issue, is a persistent and burdensome one. Our role is to connect PRN nurses to healthcare facilities where they are needed. We believe in ensuring patient care and safety when, for whatever reason, a permanent staff nurse is unavailable to fulfill that shift.

NursaTM helps facilities fill staffing shortages and vacancies for both the short term and the long term. Our talented PRN CNAs, LPNs, and RNs have found high paying PRN shifts and strike nursing jobs through our easy to use smartphone application. Join NursaTM today, and start organizing your work around your life instead of the other way around. Strikes are not terribly common in the industry but this certainly it isn’t going to be the last. We are connected to health systems and medical facilities all over to connect our clinicians to where their patients need them most.

Written by Miranda Booher, RN

Miranda is a 13-year registered nurse with a healthy background in travel nursing and healthcare marketing. She brings an interesting combination of stellar copywriting skills and first-hand nursing experience to the table. Miranda understands the industry and has an impeccable ability to write about it. And speaking of travel - Miranda currently lives in Uruguay, though she maintains an active Registered Nurse license in the state of Ohio and stays current on the latest healthcare news through her writing. When she is not creating killer copy, or serving others through her work as a nurse, you can find her hanging out on the beach with her devoted husband, three beautiful kids, and their guardian Shepsky, Ashes.

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