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Study: Unionized hospitals were better prepared for pandemic

Tuesday, Jun 30, 2020

* Press release

Illinois’ unionized hospitals have dramatically lower staff vacancy and turnover rates, safer workplaces, and more robust infection prevention and control systems while enabling registered nurses to devote substantially more time to care for individual patients, according to new research by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI).

“The global coronavirus pandemic has put new strain on Illinois’ hospitals and a nursing workforce that was already facing severe shortages,” said study co-author and ILEPI Policy Director Frank Manzo IV. “This report shows that unionized hospitals in Illinois were far better prepared to absorb the impacts of COVID-19. Our findings have important implications for the future of hospital staffing and how we manage public health crises.”

Specifically, the report reveals significant differences between the state’s unionized and non-unionized hospitals in the wake of COVID-19, including:

    • Union hospitals have nurse turnover rates that are up to 14% lower.
    • Unionized hospitals have nurse vacancy rates that are up to 45% lower.
    • Unionized hospitals report 15% fewer OSHA violations and 29% fewer serious violations.
    • Unionized hospitals employ more infection prevention and control staff—particularly in Cook County which has seen two-thirds of the state’s COVID-19 caseload.
    • Nurses at unionized hospitals are able to devote 1 to 4 more hours of care to each patient, on average.

Despite their weaker staffing and care outcomes, the report notes that the state’s non-unionized hospitals have received 16% more funding per bed than unionized facilities from federal pandemic relief measures such as the CARES Act. All told, Illinois’ hospitals have received at least $1.1 billion, and small Illinois hospitals with under 100 beds have received more than four times the per-bed funding than their larger unionized counterparts.

Prior ILEPI research had documented that Illinois’ hospitals faced a shortage of 20,000 registered nurses before the COVID-19 pandemic, with half of its nursing workforce over the age of 55 and more than three-quarters of the state’s nurses warning of insufficient staffing levels. A proposed “safe patient limits” nurse staffing law– which would have required Illinois’ hospitals to hire more nurses and has been linked to better patient outcomes, including lower fatality and readmission rates for certain respiratory conditions and improved nurse retention, at minimal impact on the financial performance of hospitals– has been pending in the Illinois General Assembly for nearly two years.

The full report is here.

* Capitol News Illinois

But while the Illinois Health and Hospital Association agrees there is a nursing shortage, it argues the lack of preparedness was more of a federal problem, and that the nursing shortage did not diminish the quality of care patients received. It strongly opposes legislation requiring minimum nurse staffing levels at hospitals, and disputes any correlation between the quality of patient care and the presence of a nurses’ union in a hospital. […]

“First of all, we’ve been drilling and doing exercises on pandemics before the pandemic hit,” [Danny Chun, spokesman for the Illinois Health and Hospital Association] said during an interview. “Every hospital in the state, as you know, has an emergency preparedness plan for disasters of all kinds – mass shootings, traffic accidents, biochemical, biohazard, flu epidemics or pandemics. In the city of Chicago last year in the summer of 2019, Chicago hospitals did an exercise, a drill with the Chicago Department of Public Health on this exact issue – pandemics. And we were directly involved in a lot of the planning and discussions back in January, February, March where hospitals got ready for the pandemic.”

Chun said hospitals were directly involved in discussions with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration in the early stages of the pandemic to plan mitigation efforts, including the decision to cancel or postpone nonemergency surgeries and procedures in order to free up hospital resources for COVID-19 patients.

“Look at the numbers. We flattened the curve,” Chun said, referring to hospitalization data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, which have shown a consistent downward trend since May in hospitalizations, intensive care admissions and ventilator usage by COVID-19 patients.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

3 Comments
  1. - R A T - Tuesday, Jun 30, 20 @ 11:08 am:

    There are just too many factors involved to believe the simplicity of the conclusions of this simplified study. But they have their opinion and I have mine, so I could easily be wrong. In truth, I have been involved in the two hospitals in Springfield and the two in Peoria and I have no idea I’d any or all are union (nor much care).


  2. - pool boy - Tuesday, Jun 30, 20 @ 12:09 pm:

    Pretty sure nurses at Memorial are not union and they seemed to do O.K. with the COVID. They did however, furlough a lot of staff until November?


  3. - City Zen - Tuesday, Jun 30, 20 @ 1:06 pm:

    Only 14 union hospitals in the state and the study couldn’t be bothered with listing them by name?


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