Provident Hospital nurses worry budget cuts could cost lives as they work last shifts

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Monday night was Dennis Kosuth's last night working a nursing shift at Provident Hospital's emergency room, and he's terrified for what he's leaving behind.

"Consistently over the years that I've been there, people will drive up family members that are not breathing saying 'Help me,'" he said, struggling to hold back tears. "My deepest worry is that happens and they're not able to get the help they need."

Cuts at the South Side hospital, the first in the country opened by an African American, are aimed at closing a $187 million hole blown in Cook County's budget by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Cook County Board passed the budget unanimously last week.

But nurses say it endangers people already disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

"The community is already, on a good day, suffering,' said Marti Smith, National Nurses United.

"If politicians talk about closing health inequities and Black Lives Matter, they need to put their money where their mouth is. They need to back up those words with deeds," Kosuth said.

A statement from a spokesperson for Cook County Health said in part, "The institution has a storied history of its commitment to the South Side, which continues with ongoing plans to invest in the redevelopment and enhancement of services at Provident Hospital. This includes plans to invest and build a $200 million new Provident Hospital facility. At a time when we as a County and a nation continue to grapple with a historic pandemic, we have worked hard to invest in plans that will provide a level of service that meets the evolving needs of the Provident patient population."

"In reality, they cut the number of medical surgical intake beds by 30%, they have closed the intensive care unit there, and they've downgraded the emergency department from basic emergency, which was staffed with a physician and nurses 24/7," Smith said.

Nurses said they're not worried about their jobs. Most, like Kosuth, will be reassigned to other hospitals.

It's the most vulnerable patients, they said, who are losing critical care.

"The community has counted on these services for decades," Smith said. "And I can't foresee them going to U of C."

Cook County Health said they're dealing with difficult cuts like every health system, but nurses on the front lines worry these choices could cost lives.
Copyright © 2021 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.