Thousands of nurses tired of working with too many patients will walk out of hospitals in a 4-state strike

Allana Akhtar
nurse strike

Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images


  • More than 6,500 nurses in California, Arizona, Florida, and Illinois are expected to participate in a 24-hour strike on Friday.
  • Nurses employed by Tenet Healthcare and the University of Chicago Medical Center are advocating better recruitment and retention of experienced nurses as well as better nurse-to-patient ratios.
  • Nursing is one of the US's fastest-growing professions, yet nurses say they must deal with issues like an influx of inexperienced workers and working with too many patients in a day.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

As the autoworker strike continues to garner national attention, nurses across the US are planning a strike of their own.

More than 6,500 nurses in hospitals around California, Arizona, Florida, and Illinois are expected to go on strike today. The walkout would be the first nurse strike in Arizona and the first hospital registered-nurse strike in Florida.

Nurses who are part of the National Nurses United union are asking for better nurse retention and nurse-to-patient ratios. Most nurses who will be participating in the strike are employed with Tenet Healthcare, a multinational health-services company that operates 65 hospitals and 500 other healthcare facilities.

Four nurses told Business Insider they had been negotiating with Tenet over their contract for over a year and hadn't received the concessions they're demanding.

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"The strike is first and foremost about patient care and patient advocacy," Dominique Hamilton, a registered nurse at St. Mary's Hospital in Arizona, said. "We want the hospital to invest in the nursing staff, and we want to have more input into the recruitment and retainment of experienced" registered nurses.

In a statement provided to Business Insider, a Tenet spokesman, Allan Koenig, said the company had been negotiating a new contract for the past few months in good faith and was disappointed nurses had chosen to strike. "We value our relationship with all our employees, and we are committed to resolving the contract negotiations," Koenig said.

Nurses who work for the University of Chicago Medical Center plan to strike for five days over nurse-to-patient ratios. These nurses are not affiliated with Tenet but are part of the NNU union. About 2,200 nurses from the University of Chicago are expected to go on strike.

"We're disheartened that we had to get to this point," Sharon O'Keefe, the University of Chicago Medical Center president, said in a release. "We worked long and hard negotiating with the help of a federal mediator and had hoped union leadership would meet us halfway."

Why nurses are going on strike

Unionized nurses say hospitals assign more patients than they can reasonably care for in a day.

Assigning nurses too many patients leads to worse patient care, Linda Aikens, a longtime researcher who is now a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, told Business Insider. Research from Australia suggests that when nurses don't have more than four patients at a time, it can save lives and lead to less readmission.

Yet just 18% of nurses believe their nurse-to-patient ratios — or the number of patients a hospital assigns them — are safe, according to a 2019 survey of Illinois nurses. Plus, nurses burn out quicker when assigned too many patients, which leads to high rates of turnover.

Yajaira Roman, a registered nurse in Florida, says her hospital has nurses working with eight patients in a day.

"Our patient ratio is one of our major issues here — we're asking those numbers be decreased," Roman said, adding: "That way we can give the patient the optimal care they deserve."

Read more: Nurses reveal the 11 hardest parts of their job, from the death of patients to not having time to pee during a shift

Nursing is one of the fastest-growing professions in the US. While there was once a shortage of nurses, many younger nurses have joined the field, Peter Buerhaus, a professor of nursing at the Montana State University College of Nursing, told Business Insider. The issue, however, is that the average age of a nurse is 51, indicating a lot of experienced nurses are likely to be retiring soon.

Buerhaus said this could lead to a slight decline in patient care.

"The reason why we are striking is because we are advocating for our patients so they can get optimal care," said Gina Rittenhouse, a registered nurse for the San Ramon Regional Medical Center in California. "We want the hospital to take steps to strengthen the recruitment and retention of experienced nurses."

Correction: A previous version of this story said nurses in Texas were going on strike. Though El Paso Nurses plan to hand out flyers and conduct public outreach, they are under contract and cannot legally strike.

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