Registered nurses at the University of Chicago Medical Center allege short staffing is causing treatment delays and jeopardizing patient safety.
On behalf of about 2,200 registered nurses at the hospital, National Nurses United says it plans to file complaints with the Illinois Department of Public Health and the federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration tomorrow, according to the union, which has 150,000 members nationwide and 6,000 members in Illinois.
In a statement today, National Nurses United said some University of Chicago Medical Center nurses have been asked to work up to six hours of overtime following scheduled shifts, despite an Illinois law that prohibits mandatory overtime to prevent worker fatigue. The group also alleges the hospital has failed to implement and post plans that align staffing with patient care needs, as mandated by Illinois law.
In its own statement, the University of Chicago Medical Center said it "takes issues of nurse staffing and workplace safety very seriously, and is consistently adapting and finding solutions that best serve our nurses and patients. We are very proud that leading independent watchdog groups like Leapfrog have consistently given us an A grade in hospital safety, affirming that we are among the safest hospitals in the city and across the country. This is in large part due to the exceptional work of our nurses."
U of C Medical Center said it does not have mandatory overtime for nurses, and as part of an existing collective bargaining agreement with the union, "we have a grievance process for any issues with overtime."
National Nurses United and the hospial are in the midst of negotiating a new labor contract. The most recent contract expired on April 15. Issues being discussed include mandatory minimum staffing levels and workplace violence prevention, said Marti Smith, Midwest director at National Nurses United.
"For us, a report to the state is a last resort," said Smith. "We'd rather engage in a collaborative process with nursing administrators at the hospital. Unfortunately, that has gotten us nowhere and patients continue to be at risk."
Since January 2017, registered nurses at the hospital have filed 1,431 forms notifying management about potentially unsafe assignments related to staffing, Smith said. Since nurses can't legally refuse assignments they deem to be unsafe, the form enables them to document conversations with supervisors when such concerns are not addressed, she added.
Most hospitals have staffing challenges, but the "volume of complaints and the breadth" at U of C Medical Center is "shocking," Smith said. For example, she said, registered nurses will work 12 to 18 hours straight and be asked to come back just six hours later, which presents a risk to both workers and patients.
National Nurses United also alleges the University of Chicago Medical Center has failed to document the cause of certain workplace injuries, preventing the hospital from identifying trends and solutions.
State Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago; Ald. Jeanette Taylor, whose 20th Ward borders the hospital; and others plan to hold a news conference tomorrow at 11 a.m. in front of UChicago Medicine's Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine in Hyde Park to discuss patient safety concerns.