National Nurses United has filed a complaint with the Illinois Department of Public Health and the federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration on behalf of University of Chicago Medical Center nurses who say they are working far too many hours.
On behalf of about 2,200 registered nurses at the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) National Nurses United has filed a complaint with the Illinois Department of Public Health and the federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration. The union has 150,000 members nationwide and 6,000 members in Illinois. The nurses are alleging short staffing is causing treatment delays and jeopardizing patient safety.
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,” even though a state law in in place 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 law.
“Nurses across UCMC see every day on every shift that short staffing is causing delays and jeopardizing 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 who works in ambulatory cardiology was so concerned that her unit had just two nurses instead of the necessary four, she cut her vacation in half. 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.”
The Center denies the claims of mandatory overtime for its nurses, adding, “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 UCMC are currently in the middle of negotiating an updated labor contract to include mandatory minimum staffing levels and workplace violence prevention. The most recent one expired on April 15, 2019.
The Center also 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.”
“For us, a report to the state is a last resort,” said Marti Smith, Midwest Director at National Nurses United, adding, “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.”
She said, “Since January 2017, registered nurses at the hospital have filed 1,431 forms notifying management about potentially unsafe assignments related to staffing…Most hospitals have staffing challenges, but the volume of complaints and the breadth at the Center is shocking.”
Some registered nurses will work an extended 12- to 18-hour shift and be asked to come back just six hours later. National Nurses United also alleges the facility “failed to document the cause of certain workplace injuries, preventing the hospital from identifying trends and solutions.”
“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 behavior will not be tolerated and they will be held accountable.”