University of Chicago hospital nurses will strike Friday, union says

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Thousands of nurses at the University of Chicago Medical Center will go on strike Friday morning.

The union made the announcement late Wednesday night after contract talks broke off despite the involvement of a federal mediator.

In anticipation of the strike, University of Chicago Medical Center went on a full bypass late Wednesday night, asking ambulances to take patients to other hospitals

Because of nurse strikes in dozens of hospitals in California, Arizona, and Florida, University of Chicago Medical Center has been able to retain fewer replacement nurses than they initially planned for.

RELATED: University of Chicago Medical Center moves patients to other hospitals in anticipation for nurses' strike

Hospital officials said the medical center is now on full bypass, and is asking ambulances to take patients to other hospitals in the area. The hospital has put both its pediatric and adult emergency departments on bypass, put its Level 1 pediatric and adult trauma programs on diversion, limited transfers from community hospitals, temporarily closed some inpatient units, rescheduled some elective procedures, and transferred patients on a case-by-case basis to other hospitals in preparation for the strike.

"The union leaders, frankly, their actions tonight were reckless and irresponsible," said Debbie Albert, chief nursing officer and senior vice president of patient care services at University of Chicago Medical Center. "We were making great progress at the table today. Really, the rules changed as we went and we called off negotiations and here we are with the strike."

About 2,200 nurses will strike Friday. No new contract talks are scheduled before Friday.

"We're disheartened that we had to get to this point," said Sharon O'Keefe, University of Chicago Medical Center President. "We worked long and hard negotiating with the help of a federal mediator and had hoped union leadership would meet us half way. We now have to focus our efforts on safely operating our hospitals and caring for the patients who depend on us."

University of Chicago Medical Center's contract with the National Nurses Union expired in April. Their main concern is the caregiver workload. In the past year and a half, workers have filed more than 1,700 reports of unsafe conditions to management. The hospital says the complains represent less than one half of one percent of all staffing assignments.

Once notified of the strike, the hospital scaled back operations. Some of the babies and children in the hospital's neonatal and pediatric intensive care units were transferred in anticipation of the strike.

The hospital said that it plans to replace the nurses for five days, per its contract with the agency providing temporary nurses, even though the nurses will strike for just one day.
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