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U. of C. Medical Center preps for first-ever nursing strike Friday after talks break down

About 2,200 nurses represented by the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United are set to strike at 7 a.m. Friday, according to a press release from the University of Chicago Medical Center.

Nurses announced a one-day strike Sept. 20 at the University of Chicago Medical Center. 
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The University of Chicago Medical Center is preparing for its first-ever nursing strike on Friday after talks with the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United broke down Wednesday night.

About 2,200 nurses represented by NNOC/NNU are set to strike at 7 a.m. Friday, according to a news release from the University of Chicago Medical Center.

“We’re disheartened that we had to get to this point,” said Sharon O’Keefe, president of the medical center. “We worked long and hard negotiating with the help of a federal mediator and had hoped union leadership would meet us halfway. We now have to focus our efforts on safely operating our hospitals and caring for the patients who depend on us.”

The medical center went on full bypass late Wednesday in preparation for the strike, asking ambulances to take patients to other hospitals in the area, according to the news release.

The medical center contracted with hundreds of replacement workers from across the country, according to the news release. They started arriving in Chicago this week for orientation and will continue serving medical center patients and work to maintain normal operations at its outpatient clinics and pharmacy.

However, the medical center has fewer replacement workers than initially planned due to concurrent strikes called by NNOC/NNU at about 12 hospitals in California, Arizona and Florida, according to the announcement.

The medical center also prepared for the strike by:

  • putting both the hospital’s pediatric and adult emergency departments on bypass;
  • placing both Level 1 pediatric and adult trauma programs on diversion;
  • limiting virtually all transfers from community hospitals;
  • temporarily closing a number of inpatient units;
  • rescheduling some elective procedures; and
  • transferring patients on a case-by-case basis to other facilities.

“We need to do the right thing for our patients, and that involves making very tough decisions about the services we can provide at this time,” said Dr. Stephen Weber, the medical center’s chief medical officer. “To ensure their needs can be safely met, a network of other high-quality hospitals in the region is helping us care for our patients.

The pediatric and adult emergency departments will still treat walk-in patients, but visitors are advised to allow extra time or their appointments or visits during the strike, according to the announcement.

The University of Chicago Medical Center and NNOC/NNU have been negotiating to reach an agreement on a new contract since the spring, according to the medical center. The previous contract expired in mid-April.

Both parties have met with a federal mediator since the union called the strike, and bargaining updates can be found at UCMCNurses.org.

“The union leaders’ conduct in ordering our nurses to walk out on our patients is simply reckless and irresponsible,” said Debra Albert, chief nursing officer and senior vice president of patient care services. “The strike has little to do with what’s happened during negotiations.”