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Lurie Children’s Hospital, one of the most prominent hospitals in Chicago, has been the stage of a recent clash in management, because of an anti-union message.
Leaders at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago recently told nurses there’s no need for a union. A letter, signed by the hospital’s chief nursing officer and assistant chief nursing officer was sent to the staff members, and they did not like the message within.
According to the letter, nurses don’t need a union to speak for them, and the administration is concerned about a union’s impact on work culture.
Management sent the letter in November, and the timing of it could not have been more wrong.
It follows some of the most hectic years at Lurie Children’s Hospital as the pandemic tested the healthcare system.
Among the challenges the hospital face were:
After the first year of Covid, large healthcare systems made big profits, as well as receiving federal bailout funds. This is something healthcare unions have been highlighting in their negotiations.
In June 2021, more than 1,000 nurses in Chicago, represented by the National Nurses Organizing Committee, went on a one-day strike.
On July 3, National Nurses United voted for a new contract that includes hiring 300 nurses; the new contract includes 125 new positions throughout the healthcare system. The contract also stipulates these nurses must be hired within 18 months.
Also, the new contract specified wage increases ranging from 12% to 31% to help retain staff. These wage increases were to occur incrementally over the next four years.
Under these circumstances, to understate the importance of unions now could not have gone easy.
A Lurie nurse spoke with the Chicago Sun-Times and asked for anonymity.
After having worked at the hospital for over 16 years, the nurse felt the conditions do not allow for the best possible care.
“You feel as if you’re a bad nurse because you are limited in the time you can spend with each of your patients,” said the nurse. “Lurie nurses strive to give the best care we can give, and that really hits us at our heart when we feel like we can’t give that.”
Nurses feel the managers and directors at Lurie Children’s Hospital disregarded their concerns when attempts were made to discuss staffing issues and work conditions improvement.
“Every month, we will sit down and go through issues,” said another Lurie nurse of six years.
“I brought up some issues that I was concerned about, and my director was… I wouldn’t say yelling, but she got very short with me.”
The reaction nurses had when they received the letter was to feel disheartened and even threatened. Also, there was no hint of any possible compromises in the letter, nurses thought.
The veteran Lurie nurse elaborated, saying:
“[Some of the phrases used in the letter] really made us feel little because many of us have spoken and continue to speak and have gone those routes and avenues that they talked about in that letter, and then it’s crickets afterward.”
Meanwhile, Julianne Bardele, Lurie Children’s Hospital spokesperson, said the hospital respects the employees’ right to organize.
However, she noted that unionization could have a profound impact on the work environment.
“Like most pediatric healthcare organizations, Lurie Children’s has faced challenges that have made nursing harder,” said Bardele.
“But we remain committed to working directly with our workforce to address concerns and to continue to foster a culture built on mutual respect and shared dedication to providing a healthier future for every child.”
The situation needs to be addressed carefully, especially since the shortage of nurses in the United States has been an ongoing issue for over a decade. New federal data shows that the crisis is much bigger than previously thought, with care facilities being understaffed, especially over the weekends. Solutions need to be found to encourage and support nursing staff, not to try and squash down their concerns.
Artificial intelligence is already assisting nurses around the globe. In Japan, for example, where the nursing crisis has reached even higher proportions than in the United States, the government turned to “Carerobos” as a solution. Japanese robots are literally taking the burden off human nurses’ shoulders by helping them lift and move patients. Some are equipped with sensors that alert the staff when a resident is in danger of falling out of the bed. Others, such as Sony’s Aibo robot dog, provide emotional support.
Amazon’s Echo devices and the Alexa app are becoming huge helpers to patients and nurses. Among other abilities, these digital voice assistants keep track of a patient’s health records and upcoming doctor appointments. They can even request medication refills from the pharmacy or call for help in cases of emergencies.
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