Mental health specialists at Cermak Health Services threaten strike

If the employees strike, they could leave about 2,200 patients without care.

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Cook County jail located at 2700 South California Ave.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Mental health specialists at Cermak Health Services of Cook County, a county-operated hospital located at Cook County Jail, are threatening to strike next week and leave about 2,200 patients without care as a result of the hospital’s plans to implement random patient assignment rotations beginning April 1.

If SEIU Local 73 —the union representing the employees — can’t negotiate a solution in the next few days, about 64 mental health specialists say they’ll strike on or after March 31.

The union has sent the legally required five-day notice —which states workers’ intent to strike — to the Illinois Labor Relations Board and hospital management.

The mental health specialists weren’t taken into account when the hospital’s management made the decision to switch to the “musical chairs” rotation, according to SEIU Local 73 spokesman Eric Bailey.

The hospital’s management has said its decision is based on numerous academic studies that show rotations improve patient safety and employee complacency, but Bailey said it’s failed to provide this evidence.

“The patients they are serving ... are very sensitive to these type of changes because they really have come from backgrounds where there is a lack of trust,” Bailey said. “These type of destructions in continuity of care can have a direct impact on the care that the mental health specialists are trying to provide for their patients.”

Representatives from Cook County Health didn’t respond to requests for comment from the Chicago Sun-Times. Cermak Health Services and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s office couldn’t be reached.

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