The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Staffing Crisis at Chicago Hospitals

Sep 12, 2022

If you’re a nurse or support staff at Stroger or Provident Hospitals on Chicago’s West and South Sides, then you know what it means to be consistently overworked, grossly underpaid, and taken advantage of at every turn by management.

Often you are required to work extra hours and handle the work that one or two other workers did before they quit. You’re told to do work you are not trained for, or never signed up to do. There are staffing shortages everywhere in the hospital, including the Human Resources staff responsible for filling hundreds of open positions. Nearly every day you learn of someone else who quit because they just can’t take it anymore.

Both Stroger and Provident are run by Cook County Health, part of the county government. It also includes a network of clinics and is the largest “safety net” healthcare system in Chicago. It covers a large portion of the city’s working class and poor residents. The majority of its patients are Black and Latino.

Cook County Health has chronic staffing shortages that go back before the pandemic. Currently it employs 5500 workers, but more than 2000 budgeted jobs remain open. And pay is so low, it’s nearly impossible to fill those jobs. One hiring manager said that over 50 recent job offers were rejected primarily because of the low pay offered.

Large numbers of nurses and staff continue to leave. Primarily, workers quit or take early retirement because of low pay, sinking morale and burnout due to the terrible overwork. Many nurses continue to demand wages they are owed for treatment of critical patients at the height of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, in the neighborhoods, desperately needed health services continue to erode. When trained nurses and medical staff are unavailable, patients are left without critical care. Doctors are less available than ever. At Stroger and Provident, appointments to see a urologist, ophthalmologist, or other medical specialists are scheduled out 4 to 6 months and more.

Rather than raising pay to keep those they have and attract the additional workers they urgently need, management and county politicians have fueled the staffing crisis by laying off workers in “low revenue” departments. The Cook County Health CEO even touts his plan to expand revenue-making services and cut costs in others. It’s clear—this system cannot solve the health and overwork crisis epitomized by Cook County Health.

While the bosses have no answers, workers at the County Health System have shown a way forward. Increasing staffing levels and higher wages were demands raised in multiple strikes of Cook County Health nurses and staff in 2021. Their fights are all our fights!