Cook County hospitals cut nurses, some ambulance service

February 15, 2011

By Gabriel Spitzer

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(WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)
Nurses protest the plan, in 2009, that led to the job cuts underway at two county hospitals.

Cook County is slashing the nursing staffs at two of its hospitals. The cuts have been in the works for a while, but frustrated nurses are talking strike. 

Provident and Oak Forest hospitals will be losing about 60 percent of their nursing positions – 138 in total. The cuts come as the county is downsizing both hospitals, and moving in-patient care to the larger Stroger Hospital. Administrators at Provident and Oak Forest are preparing to live without almost a fourth of their county subsidy. 

A representative for the nurses union said the job cuts are destructive. 

“The nurses in the Health and Hospitals system have taken the lion’s share of the cuts,” said Leslie Curtis, of the National Nurses Organizing Committee. “We believe it’s an unsafe scenario, something that has fallen on deaf ears to the Health and Hospitals Board. It’s just going to result in poor care.”

Curtis objected to the county making the move before the State of Illinois has signed off on scaling back Oak Forest Hospital to what amounts to a large clinic. She said the nurses authorized a strike in December, and members now are pressing for action. 

Health and Hospitals System spokesman Lucio Guerrero said there are about 130 openings elsewhere in the county system, and nurses can apply for those jobs. The job reductions are part of a strategic plan that also involves ending ambulance service at Provident Hospital, which Guerrero said will take effect today. According to Guerreo, about 10 percent of Provident’s patients typically arrive by ambulance.