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Community First Medical Center Nurses Hold One-Day Strike

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Nurses at Community First Medical Center in Portage Park are staging a one-day strike on Monday, amid contract negotiations with the hospital.

The nurses are demanding increased staffing and more supplies, saying it's a safety issue for patients.

They also say three nurses there have died from COVID, and at least 60 have tested positive for the virus since the start of the pandemic. They claim the deaths and illnesses are due in part to chronic problems such as a lack of appropriate personal protective equipment, the hospital's failure to follow rules, and inadequate staffing.

According to published reports, the hospital was fined $13,500 in February for failing to follow federal guidelines to properly test the fit of N95 respirators provided to nurses treating COVID patients, and for failure to provide a written respirator protection program.

Nurses also have accused the hospital of failing to properly maintain the doors of negative pressure rooms used to isolate COVID patients; failing to pay employee health insurance premiums, resulting in the loss of health care and disability benefits; and failing to pay proper overtime to staff.

The hospital has said they've had positive negotiations with the nurses' union, and have agreed to a pay raise for nurses. Earlier this month, Community First interim CEO Jeremiah Leonard criticized the nurses' decision to stage a one-day strike.

"Given the great progress that both sides have made in negotiations over the past months, a strike notice seems particularly out of place. Just yesterday, both sides agreed to a wages package that will set the minimum base salary for our regular nurses at $30 an hour, and all of our regular nurses will be receiving raises of at least 4.25%," he said in a statement. "Ultimately, we think a one day strike is bad for our patients and our community. Community First is a stand-alone safety net hospital serving all patients, regardless of the ability to pay. Community First spends more than 6.6% of its revenues on charity care (the highest in the State), and a majority of our patients are on Medicaid. Despite that payor mix, we just received our second straight 'A' from Leapfrog for quality and safety. A strike distracts from the good work that is being done every day at Community First by every single doctor, nurse, and colleague at Community First."

However, Leonard's statement did not address the nurses claims of insufficient PPE, inadequate staffing, or other problems at the hospital.

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