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University of Chicago Medical Center nurses go on strike

More than 2,000 nurses hit the picket lines Friday morning at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

Starting at 7 a.m. 2,200 University of Chicago nurses traded in their scrubs for picket signs.

“We’ve never had a strike at the University of Chicago and we’ve been unionized since 1960; this is a big history for us,” said ICU nurse Helen Bernard.

Contract talks broke down late Wednesday night making way for the 24-hour strike that will be part of several nurses’ strikes across the country. Nurses here said their main issue is staffing and not having enough of it.

“The staffing at the hospital is to the point to where you can’t deliver the type of care that you want to give,” said registered nurse Pamela Valentine.

Hospital reps said they made a generous staff offer but the union rejected it and talks broke down over incentive pay.

“We are prepared to continue operations and care for our patients in need of our services,” said Sharon O’Keefe, president of the University of Chicago Medical Center.

For the next five days, certain trauma programs are closed and dozens of patients have been relocated, while other patients have put their care on hold.

“I put all of my appointments on hold until the nurses that I know get a resolution to whatever it is they have going on,” said patient Kendra Rivers.

Although the nurses have agreed to a 24-hour strike, which means they’d return to work Saturday morning at 7 a.m., hospital officials said replacement nurses needed a five-day guarantee to work through Tuesday. Hospital officials said union nurses will be allowed to return to work on Wednesday, September 25.

Members of the union’s negotiating team criticized the move and called it a lockout.

University of Chicago Medical Center’s contract with the National Nurses Union expired in April.

Hospital officials said the medical center is now on full bypass, and is asking ambulances to take patients to other hospitals in the area. The hospital has put both its pediatric and adult emergency departments on bypass, put its Level 1 pediatric and adult trauma programs on diversion, limited transfers from community hospitals, temporarily closed some inpatient units, rescheduled some elective procedures, and transferred patients on a case-by-case basis to other hospitals in preparation for the strike.

This article originally appeared on ABC7 News.

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