CHICAGO -- Nurses at University of Chicago Medical Center -- 2,200 of them -- went on strike at 7 a.m. Friday, the first strike in the history of the 618-bed hospital, one of Chicago's largest and most prestigious.
Hundreds of nurses wearing red shirts marched at the intersection of 58th Street and Maryland Avenue, holding signs that said, "On strike for my patients" and chanting, "What do we want? Safe staffing. When do we want it? Now."
Though the nurses union called only a one-day strike, it will turn into a lockout. The nurses won't be allowed to return to work until Wednesday morning because the hospital contracted with temporary nurses to take their places until that time.
The hospital spent the days leading up to the strike curtailing services in some areas. Dozens of babies and children who were in intensive care units were moved to other hospitals.
The hospital went on full bypass late Wednesday, meaning it is asking ambulances to take new patients to other hospitals, including trauma patients -- sparking concern from some in the community who spent years fighting for trauma services on the South Side.
It is also limiting transfers from other hospitals, temporarily closing some units, transferring some patients to other hospitals, and rescheduling some elective procedures.
Hospital spokeswoman Ashley Heher couldn't say Friday whether the ambulance diversions and curtailed services would continue in the coming days. She said the hospital is continually assessing the situation.
The service cutbacks were necessary to ensure quality care for patients still in the hospital during the strike, said Dr. Stephen Weber, U. of C. Medicine's chief medical officer.
"Fundamentally, no matter how many patients we're caring for, we want to ensure the security and safety of each one of them," Weber said.
He said he didn't know Friday how many of the hospital's beds were still occupied.