Nurses rally in Chicago to call for better hospital staffing amid rising COVID cases

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicagoan Pam Katz, a registered nurse who works with blood cancer patients, was drawn to nursing after her father died of multiple myeloma.

"Love every minute of it, it's definitely me. But nobody signed on for two years of a pandemic," Katz said. "It's just exhausting for everybody that's in healthcare right now."

In November, Katz left her hospital job working 12-hour shift at patients' bedsides. Instead, she found a new job in the same field at an out-patient clinic, working Monday through Friday.

"I'm no longer working 12-hour days, so I can be with my kids in the morning and the afternoon. And they need me," she said.

Stories about nurses leaving hospitals is a concern for National Nurses United (NNU), the nation's largest union representing registered nurses.

The union held events across the country Thursday, including in Chicago's Medical District, where nurses shared first-hand experiences.

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"We are chronically understaffed on my unit, putting my patients lives at jeopardy," said Falguni Dave, a registered nurse who works at Stroger Hospital.

NNU represents about 6,000 nurses throughout the Chicagoland area, according to local representatives. Some of those nurses work for University of Chicago Medicine, like Scott Mechanic.

"On my last shift, 15 critically ill ICU patients were boarding in our emergency room, some of them for days on end," Mechanic said.

Nationally, the union held a Zoom news conference Thursday, demanding hospitals address the staffing crisis. The issue has put nurses under pressure, including Joyce Ball..

"Twice this year I grabbed my coat at the end of the shift and walked towards the door thinking I would never return because of being so overwhelmed," said Ball, a nurse at Provident Hospital of Cook County.

In Illinois, nurses are pushing state legislators to approve House Bill 3871. The proposed legislation would address patient-nurse ratios, setting a state mandated maximum of patients per nurse.

"We are asking our legislators to pass the Safe Patient Limits Act that would implement safe nurse to patient ratios so everyone in Illinois who is admitted to a hospital would be guaranteed staffing levels meet patient care needs," said Elizabeth Lalasz, a registered nurse at Stroger Hospital.

For Pam Katz, leaving the hospital job has changed her life and lifestyle. But there's still a daunting reality.

"The industry is losing some really, really, really good, experienced nurses because of this," Katz said. "My overall concern is who's going to be there to take care of people once all this is said and done."
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