Registered nurses at Community First to hold one-day strike
RNs charge management with unfair labor practices and cite patient safety concerns
Registered nurses at Community First Medical Center in Chicago will hold a one-day unfair labor practice strike on Monday, July 26, announced National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU). The nurses have filed unfair labor practice charges against the hospital charging that management has failed to engage in good faith bargaining with the union.
“Nurses at Community First have provided care to patients throughout the pandemic under difficult conditions that were avoidable, because the hospital failed to address staffing, equipment, and supply issues,” said Kathy Haff, an emergency room registered nurse at Community First Medical Center. “Now we see the hospital is failing us and the public at the bargaining table and is bargaining in bad faith. We have asked the hospital to supply us with information on their staffing schedules, and they delayed sharing that information for nearly a year. We have seen the hospital renege on previously agreed upon proposals and we have had hospital negotiators abruptly end negotiations early without cause. We do not want to strike but feel the hospital management has given us no choice. We must bargain to improve conditions at our hospital so we can provide the best care for our patients.”
- What: Community First nurses stage a one-day unfair labor practice strike
- When: Monday, July 26 Nurses will be on the strike line from 7:30 a.m. until 2 p.m.
- Where: Community First Medical Center
5645 West Addison St., Chicago
Nurses say chronic short staffing is putting patient safety at risk. Lack of staffing leads to delays in care, which causes unnecessary suffering for patients and can lead to an increase in falls, and other issues. Lack of staffing also leads to nurses caring for patients without the clinical training that is appropriate (for instance, when an intensive care patient remains in the emergency room because there are not sufficient nurses to staff beds in the ICU.)
Furthermore, nurses charge that Community First management has provided fraudulent information on its staffing to the state. Under the Illinois Hospital Licensing Act, minimum staffing for a telemetry unit is one nurse for four to five patients, but nurses say it is not unusual for telemetry nurses to have to care for seven to eight patients at a time. Yet reporting under the Hospital Report Card Act, Community First claimed radically inflated staffing ratios that indicated that they were staffing one nurse to two patients in the telemetry unit.
“Every time a nurse thinks about taking a meal or a break, or even transporting a patient, we worry about what will happen to all the patients on our unit,” said Rachelle Vardon, a registered nurse. “If I am caring for seven patients and my coworker is caring for eight patients, and I go on break, now one nurse is caring for 15 patients, and that jeopardizes the safety of all of those patients.”
Nurses say recruitment and retention is a chronic problem at Community First as the conditions are so poor due to the lack of staff, the management’s refusal to fix broken equipment such as IV pumps, and the lack of supplies, including saline flushes and appropriate personal protective equipment.
Records show that since February 2020, Community First has seen a 51 percent turnover in nursing staff. For nurses with less than 20 years at Community First, turnover during that same period is 78 percent.
“We can’t retain nurses because working conditions are so bad,” said Haff. “We see a revolving door of young graduates who come for a few months, get some experience and then leave. I have worked at this hospital for more than 20 years, and I want to ensure that this hospital remains here providing care to our community, but we need to improve working conditions so that nurses will stay.”
Haff notes that nurses at Community First make about 40 percent less than the market rate, and that they have gone without raises for nine years.
Three nurses died from Covid-19 and at least 60 other nurses at Community First Medical Center have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic. Nurses say the deaths and illnesses are linked to the management’s failure to provide optimal personal protective equipment, failure to follow OSHA mandated rules, a lack of supplies, and inadequate staffing, all which are chronic problems which persist at the hospital.
The strike comes after nurses initiated an OSHA investigation in April for what they believe are numerous safety and employment violations at Community First Medical Center. Nurses have also called on the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Illinois Department of Labor, and the Illinois Attorney General’s office to launch investigations.
Here are examples of these concerns:
Continued failure to fit test nurses for the N95 respirators provided by the hospital despite documented 2020 OSHA citation and fine. NNOC/NNU initiated the 2020 OSHA investigation after three Community First Medical Center nurses died of Covid-19: Nancy Veto, RN, died in May; Anjanette Miller, RN, a nursing supervisor, died in April; and Dione Malana, RN, died in July. In December 2020, OSHA found that hospital administration had not taken appropriate steps to fit test the nursing staff for N95 respirators, and the hospital had failed to develop and implement a written respirator protection program. The hospital was fined $13,000. While management is now providing fit tests for some nurses, they are not being fit tested for the N95 respirators that are provided by the hospital.
Lack of personal protective equipment and faulty N95s: Hospital administration is supplying nurses with N95s that are stored in brown paper bags, not in their original manufacturer’s packaging, making it impossible to know if the respirators are expired. The straps on these N95s often break, exposing patients and nurses to possible infectious agents. Nurses are being forced to reuse gowns that are intended for single use and they do not have access to small and extra small gloves. Nurses are being asked to use gloves that do not fit and that present an infection control hazard to nurses and patients.
Failure to pay employee health insurance premiums which resulted in the loss of health care, disability, and other benefits: The failure of the hospital to pay for health insurance premiums in 2019 despite deducting the employee share from their paychecks, was only discovered when employees tried to access their health care benefits to obtain medications. Multiple employees ended up with significant debt due to the loss of health insurance. This is being reported to the state attorney general’s office.
Failure to pay overtime: Community First Medical Center routinely failed to correctly calculate overtime between May 2020 and April 2021, which led to certain employees losing as much as $200 dollars per paycheck.
Community First Medical Center is a privately owned hospital that was purchased in 2015 by Ed Green and another investor. The nurses at the hospital voted to join NNOC/NNU in 2019. Last year, eight emergency room physicians quit the hospital, citing patient safety concerns.
NNOC/NNU represents 200 nurses at Community First Medical Center.
National Nurses United is the largest and fastest-growing union and professional association of registered nurses in the United States with more than 175,000 members nationwide. NNU plays a leadership role in safeguarding the health and safety of RNs and their patients and has won landmark legislation in the areas of staffing, safe patient handling, infectious disease, and workplace violence prevention.