Nearly 900 Chicago nurses strike

Nearly 900 nurses at Chicago-based Cook County Health went on strike June 24 over staffing concerns, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The nurses, represented by the National Nurses Organizing Committee, an affiliate of National Nurses United, will strike for one day. They work at John H. Stroger Jr. and Provident hospitals, as well as at the system's clinics and in the Cook County Department of Corrections.

Health system spokesperson Alexandra Normington said in a June 24 news release that Cook County Health "remains prepared to provide safe care for our patients during today's nursing strike."

Cook County Health has augmented staffing with agency nurses in key areas and has staffing in place to meet current patient care needs, Ms. Normington stated. Stroger went on ambulance bypass for emergency department and advanced life support cases at 6:05 a.m. June 24, and the health system will reevaluate bypass status every four hours, she said. The hospital continues to take trauma cases.

Ms. Normington said some elective and nonurgent procedures or appointments have also been rescheduled, and telehealth will be used to accommodate some appointments

The National Nurses Organizing Committee and health system have been in negotiations since October.  

The union said the largest sticking point for nurses in negotiations is a failure to address persistent staffing shortages throughout Cook County Health.

In a news release, Consuelo Vargas, RN, an emergency room nurse at Stroger, said: "Many patients have gone without care during the pandemic and are now beginning to seek treatment for their ongoing medical conditions. Yet we are constantly understaffed, and because of that, we are losing experienced nurses."

Ms. Normington told the Tribune that Cook County Health continually hires nurses and has hired nearly 800 of them in the last year.

Social workers and other employees represented by SEIU Local 73 are also scheduled to strike indefinitely beginning June 25.

SEIU Local 73 represents 2,449 workers in Cook County, including workers in Cook County Health at Stroger and Provident hospitals.

Eric Bailey, a union spokesperson for SEIU Local 73 — which represents workers in offices under the Cook County president, in the county clerk's office, in the sheriff's office and at Cook County Health — told the Tribune key points of contention include pay equity, pay related to the COVID-19 pandemic and retiree health benefits.

SEIU Local 73 represents 2,449 workers in Cook County, including housekeeping, food service, medical technologists, ward clerks, mental health workers, physician assistant, medical assistants and care coordination staff.

Ms. Normington said Cook County Health is also also preparing for the strike by SEIU Local 73's membership.

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