Chicago Nurses Demonstrate Against Unsafe Working Conditions!


NURSES at the University of Chicago Medical Centre (UCMC) demonstrated against unsafe working conditions and inadequate staffing levels at a rally organised by the National Nurses Union (NNU) on Monday.

NNU is the largest nurses’ union in the United States and represents approximately 2,300 nurses at UChicago Medicine.

Illinois State Senator Robert Peters and State Representative Fred Crespo, joined the nurses, while members of the University of Chicago Labour Council, a coalition of Hyde Park labour organisations, also rallied at 8.30am.

Marti Smith, NNU Midwest director, said: ‘Most of the nurses who are here at our picket are on their day off, while working nurses will come down on their break time.

‘The union is demonstrating against unsafe working conditions and inadequate staffing. Due to legal obligations, nurses are not permitted to abandon their patients, no matter the circumstances.

‘However, when conditions are exceptionally objectionable – for example, if nurses are exposed to situations of extraordinary risk, or if they cannot reach a doctor or another nurse for assistance – nurses are permitted to file an objection.

‘Nurses at the hospital have filed over 1,500 objections since January 1st, 2017‚ largely as a result of understaffing.’

NNU has filed two ongoing complaints: one to the Illinois Department of Health, alleging that UChicago Medicine’s staffing levels are under the state mandate.

The second, to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), claims that the hospital is not keeping adequate records of workplace injuries.

The union calls for UChicago Hospitals to adhere to nurse-patient ratios stipulated by California legislation.

California is currently the only state to have set government-mandated nurse-patient ratios.

A bill to implement a similar mandate in Illinois was defeated in the State House of Representatives last month.

‘Nurses across UCMC see every day on every shift that short staffing is causing delays and jeopardising safe patient care,’ said Talisa Hardin, a registered nurse in the burn intensive care unit.

‘Chemotherapy nurses say a lack of nurses in their unit has led to waits of up to four hours for treatment.

‘One RN (Registered Nurse) who works in ambulatory cardiology was so concerned that her unit had just two nurses instead of the necessary four, she cut her vacation short.

‘She said she feared if nurses were unable to respond within 24 hours to patient calls and emails, those patients would wind up in the emergency room or dying at home.’

Nurses say not only is short-staffing rampant throughout UCMC, but hospital management is also failing to uphold federal law addressing workplace injuries and Illinois law prohibiting mandatory overtime.

‘State and federal laws are put in place to protect the public. It is greatly disturbing to find that UCMC is flagrantly disregarding statutes designed to protect nurses and patients,’ said Illinois State Senator Robert Peters.

‘These complaints let UCMC know their behaviour will not be tolerated and they will be held accountable.’

RNs charge that UCMC is failing to follow the 2008 Nurse Staffing by Patient Acuity Act which requires hospitals in Illinois to implement and post a written staffing plan in each unit that aligns RN staffing with patient care needs.

Furthermore, nurses say a study of the staffing plans that have been posted, show that UCMC is only staffing according to those plans 54 per cent of the time.

Studies show that when RNs are forced to care for too many patients at one time, patients are at higher risk of preventable medical errors, falls and injuries, certain medical complications, increased length of hospital stays, and readmissions.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to log workers’ injuries that require treatment or cause a nurse to miss work.

These logs are necessary to evaluate the safety of a workplace, and to implement protections to protect nurses.

While UCMC maintains logs, the logs fail to note what caused the injury.

Without this critical information, it is impossible to determine trends of workplace injury or identify remedies to address the problems.

Nurses report they are being compelled to work mandatory overtime, sometimes as long as six hours of overtime, following completion of their scheduled hours shifts.

Not only is mandatory overtime prohibited by Illinois law, it also leads to nurse fatigue and patient safety issues.

A 2004 study found that nurses who work shifts of 12.5 hours or longer are three times more likely to make an error in patient care.

  • Last Wednesday afternoon a rally was held outside Beaumont Hospital in Wayne, where employees there and from nearby affiliates in Trenton and Taylor showed how they feel about the company’s top executive.

Nursing assistants, emergency room technicians, pharmacy aides, patient transporters and clerks participated.

Healthcare workers at three Beaumont hospitals are outraged by top executive’s swelling salaries in light of their struggle for better wages, more affordable health care and stronger staffing.

Meanwhile, caregivers rallied on July 17 after discovering that Beaumont Health CEO John Fox’s ‘compensation’ increased 82%, to more than $5.6 million, in 2017, according to a news release from SEIU Healthcare, Michigan’s largest healthcare union.

The company’s profits last year totalled $142 million and a ‘long list’ of other Beaumont executives saw significant increases of over $1 million for 2017, according to the release.

A union media release said: ‘A small group of Beaumont executives at the top are getting extremely rich while patient care standards are being compromised.

‘Beaumont executives are making millions while the actual caregivers are struggling to just make ends meet,’ the union quotes certified nursing assistant Mike Graham as saying.

Fox, a 67-year-old Bloomfield Hills resident, joined Beaumont in 2015 after 16 years as president and chief executive officer of Emery Healthcare in Atlanta.

The Michigan Nurses Association last week filed an unfair labour practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, saying Beaumont Health System ‘policies . . . interfere with, restrain and coerce employees’ who support its organising efforts.

In response to SEIU Healthcare’s criticisms, Beaumont issued a statement, saying: ‘Beaumont believes John Fox’s compensation as president and CEO is reasonable, based on a rigorous methodology including a review of market data, assessment of job responsibilities and evaluation of qualifications.

‘The Beaumont Health Board’s Organisation and Compensation Committee reviews and approves executive compensation recommendations for executives with the assistance of an external, independent compensation consultant …

‘We must provide compensation and benefits that are reasonable and competitive with what employers in healthcare and other sectors provide.’

  • Hundreds of state homecare workers in Oregon have protested against receiving late paycheques from the Department of Human Services, sometimes leaving employees in a state of financial uncertainty.

Nearly 50 homecare workers rallied outside DHS headquarters in Salem last week to demand the agency address what they say is a systemic flaw in the state’s payroll system.

‘We need to see real solutions from the state to address its out-of-date payroll system,’ said Rebecca Sandoval, a homecare worker from Medford and vice president of the union that represents homecare workers. The current system is creating a financial crisis for too many homecare and personal support workers. All workers deserve to be paid on time.’

A survey from Service Employees International Union Local 503, the state’s largest public employee union, found that over 40 per cent of the nearly 2,000 homecare workers surveyed reported not receiving a paycheque on time.

There are approximately 30,000 homecare and personal support workers in the state, who care for the elderly and those with intellectual disabilities through two state-managed programmes.

Nearly 500 payments to personal support workers, who help those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, weren’t received on time in 2018.

Over 9,000 paycheques to homecare workers, who work with the aging and disabled, were delayed.

For those living paycheque to paycheque, a late payment can be devastating.

Noemi Sarmiento, a home care worker in Gresham, said that she had trouble supporting her two daughters and her grandson after not getting her June paycheque on time.

‘I almost lost my home,’ she said. ‘I was forced to get assistance from the state.’