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City's pandemic facilities swipe staff from safety-net hospitals
Some say they've lost doctors and nurses to the city's makeshift McCormick Place facility, which aims to support a surge of COVID-19 patients.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020
Crain's Chicago Business
by Stephanie Goldberg

As the city works to build up its makeshift hospital at McCormick Place and other sites to support a surge of COVID-19 patients, local hospitals are losing staff.

Loretto Hospital and Norwegian American Hospital on the West Side already have lost workers to the McCormick Place facility. Hospitals, especially safety nets that serve large numbers of low-income patients, can’t afford to match the higher pay and additional benefits offered by staffing firms working for the city.

“If we have to shut our doors because we don’t have the resources or staff to take care of the patients, it will be the greatest failure our community has ever experienced,” Loretto CEO George Miller said in a statement.

Other hospitals and ambulance companies also have had workers threaten to leave for the city’s COVID facilities, which include MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island and the former Sherman Hospital in Elgin, sources said. They point to generous pay packages that are, in some cases, more than twice workers’ regular hourly rates.

Nurse practitioners in the Chicago area make an average of about $50 an hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Staffing companies have offered more than $100 an hour plus overtime. Meanwhile, Favorite Healthcare Staffing offered paramedics $50 an hour plus overtime, as well as a $400 transportation reimbursement and hotel accommodations, according to an advertisement from the firm. On average, emergency medical technicians and paramedics in the area make about $20 an hour, according to BLS data.

"It makes tremendous sense to expand capacity, but if you increase capacity in one place, you could decrease capacity someplace else,” said Jose Sanchez, CEO of Norwegian American. Staffing up the alternative care sites "has created a ripple effect for all of us in regard to compensation levels that many hospitals, especially safety nets, cannot afford."

“From day one, the creation of the new McCormick Place Alternate Care Facility has been about creating capacity to serve residents who become sick from COVID-19, while alleviating the burden on staff and the operations of Chicago’s existing area hospitals to treat the most severe of cases,” Dr. Nick Turkal, executive director of the facility, said in a statement. “While the early stages of our efforts to mobilize needed health care capacity inadvertently recruited from local health care providers, we have since addressed our staffing strategies to prioritize qualified medical staff recruited from outside of Chicagoland.”

The McCormick Place facility's "leadership team has also been in close contact with area hospital CEOs to ensure that staffing does not detract from the hospitals in town," Hali Levandoski, a spokeswoman for the Mayor's Office, added in a statement. "In an effort to prevent any negative impact to our valued network of providers, the city has worked with the state to add geographic radius and non-poaching clauses to temporary staffing contracts. These temporary staffing agencies work to draw upon a national pool of travel healthcare professionals.”

For example, Alliance Health Staffing, which was hired by the city to place doctors at alternative care sites, has started requiring that applicants—not including independent doctors—provide a letter of approval from their employer if they work within a 30-mile radius of the city's COVID facilities.

Meanwhile, hospitals with deeper pockets are offering higher pay for COVID positions. Staffing firm Maxim Healthcare Services has advertised $70-an-hour jobs for registered nurses at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Streeterville.

"We cannot compete with Northwestern and the alternative sites being opened," Norwegian American's Sanchez said. "That is creating a major operational disruption for safety-net hospitals like us."

DuPage Medical Group, which is helping staff the McCormick Place facility, is “in frequent contact with local hospitals to understand their needs, and continue(s) to work to appropriately place our providers and clinical employees where they can best serve the health care needs of the community,” according to an emailed statement from the area’s largest doctors group.



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