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University of Chicago Medical Center nurses protest staffing levels, claim patient safety is at risk

Nurses protest staffing shortages at University of Chicago Medical Center
Nurses protest staffing shortages at University of Chicago Medical Center 01:07

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Nurses at University of Chicago Medical Center marched in front of the hospital Thursday morning, demanding improved staffing, amid worries about short-staffing and its impact on patient care.

The nurses' union, National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU), has said more than 580 nurses left the hospital in the past year, and they've had at least 100 vacant nursing positions for more than a year.

"When patients are in the hospital, we see them in crisis, in pain and needing help," said Lea Sargent King, a telemetry staff nurse and chair of the RN professional practice committee at University of Chicago Medical Center. "When I have too many patients to care for safely this affects my ability to give my patients the care they deserve."

The nurses also have said a number of new hires are still going through orientation, and not yet working as staff nurses. The union said it's becoming overwhelming for the nurses.

"We want the University of Chicago Medical Center to provide a safe work environment so nurses do not leave at the end of their shift finding themselves crying in the car on the way home, and deciding to quit their jobs; so we aren't anxious before the next shift, wondering what kind of crisis we're going to face when there aren't enough staff and support; so that nurses see our work as valued, and don't quit or take early retirement, leaving us even shorter staffed," perioperative care nurse John Hieronymas said.

Hieronymas said nurses not only face regular short-staffing, but inadequate or broken equipment, insufficient health and safety protections, and increased workloads.

The union said nurses have reported safety concerns more than 750 times in the past 12 weeks, including delays in care, late delivery of medication, increases in fall risks, lack of proper equipment or education.

The nurses said they want to do their jobs, but management doesn't provide them with the proper staffing resources to care for patients, causing stress. They also said they are routinely getting texts on their day off from managers asking them to come in to cover a shift because of short-staffing.

In response to the nurses' claims, University of Chicago Medical Center the hospital "continues to be a Chicagoland leader in pay, benefits and nursing recruitment."

"As a result, UCMC continues to enjoy some of the best nurse staffing and lowest vacancy rates in the region in a time of nursing shortages. We are proud of our record and proud of the 2,700 nurses who have chosen to make their careers at UCMC as members of our respected patient care team," the hospital said in a statement.

The hospital claimed its nursing vacancy rate is less than 4.7%, compared to the national nursing vacancy rate of 17%.

"Our superior care and staffing has earned us an "A" patient safety grade 21 consecutive times from the industry watchdog Leapfrog Group. That includes an "A" during the most recent Spring 2022 survey," the hospital said. "Regrettably, today's protest is not about the facts or anything the University of Chicago Medical Center has or has not done. Instead, it is part of a nationally directed publicity effort in which NNOC/NNU is protesting across the country to support a self-serving agenda, even when the facts don't support it."

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