Nurses at Provident Hospital rallied Monday to denounce the temporary closure of their emergency department, saying the decision by Cook County Health officials happened too quickly and puts South Side residents at risk.
Around 30 nurses, wearing face shields, masks and scrubs joined other supporters lining the sidewalk in front of the hospital, where a banner that read “nurse power” was tied to fencing.
Passersby honked their support as nurses yelled out chants including “we are in emergency, keep the ER open.”
Dennis Kosuth, a registered nurse at Provident, said he was “stunned” when he found out about the month-long suspension of services Saturday through the news media, saying county health officials “didn’t notify anybody.”
“How are they going to let the community know that this hospital is closed by sending an email out or a press conference, or a presser to newspapers?” Kosuth asked. “They need to do more than that to let the community know what’s going on here.
“We’re open to discussing alternatives to closing the ER. They said they want to make the emergency room more safe — we agree with that it should be more safe, but you don’t do it by … sending an announcement out on Friday that the ER is going to close on Monday.”
Kosuth said he’s worried for the community surrounding Provident, which is largely African American. WBEZ reported that black residents are dying from coronavirus at “disproportionately high rates,” comprising almost 60% of the COVID-19 deaths in the county and 70% in Chicago as of Saturday.
At an “impact bargaining” meeting between county officials and nurses Sunday night, Kosuth said he and other nurses demanded the health system postpone or delay the closure.
“They refused, they basically said we’re moving forward with it,” Kosuth said.
In a statement, Caryn Stancik, the chief spokeswoman for Cook County Health, said “this is not a decision that was made lightly, but it had to be made quickly for the safety of patients and staff. This pandemic has presented challenges and lessons learned to hospitals across the country.”
“Not addressing challenges that have a fixable solution would be irresponsible,” the statement continued. “The temporary suspension of emergency services will allow us to reconfigure the space to safely care for patients and prevent the unintentional exposure of others including our staff. We are committed to completing these changes and reopening the emergency department on or before May 6th.”
Stancik also said that in addition to media coverage, “a detailed notice and flyer was emailed to 17,000+ subscribers of our community newsletter and our 6,000 employees and flyers were hand delivered and/or posted at CTA stops, police and fire departments and businesses that remain open in the area. Additionally, we are staffing Provident Hospital around-the-clock should a patient present.”
The protest comes just a few days after Cook County Health announced that it would close the emergency department at Provident Hospital for about a month starting Monday to figure out a better way to handle the “large volume of patients” and “challenges of a pandemic” at the South Side hospital.
Health officials announced Friday they will work on ”reconfiguring the current flow of patients, increasing space between patients and creating and equipping areas to function as isolation areas” because the hospital was not designed to handle “a large volume of patients or the challenges of a pandemic involving a highly contagious disease,” a release announcing the move said.
Because of those changes the hospital will be closed starting Monday and will likely remain closed until May 6, though officials hope to reopen sooner.
Medical personnel will be temporarily reassigned to Stroger or other places in the county’s health system to assist with the response to coronavirus.
Patients who come to the hospital during this time will be triaged and either directed to a nearby hospital, Stroger Hospital or seen by a physician at Provident, the release said.
Rigo Gomez said he thought the suspension of services was “an absurd joke.” His parents have been ER patients at the hospital in the past and see primary care doctors there, appointments Gomez is responsible for attending.
“There’s an alternative, and that’s to open up the rest of the hospital for the ER, and to bring in more medical staff, and that’s what we need. We need more. We don’t need less,” Gomez said. “They are taking away the few resources that we have. ... This is unacceptable. They have blood on their hands if they go through with shutting down the ER at Provident Hospital.”