Ascension Saint Joseph Joliet president leaving amid labor strife with nurses

Shride leaving by end of year. Ascension said it has another interim president ready.

Chris Shride, president of Ascension Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, speaks at the grand opening for a new cancer care center on Sunday, July 17, 2022, at the Ascension Illinois Health Center, 500 S. Weber Road, Romeoville.

Ascension Saint Joseph – Joliet hospital President Chris Shride is leaving less than two years after his arrival and amid ongoing turmoil with a nursing staff that has gone on strike twice since August.

Shride arrived in February 2022, the third top executive at the hospital in three years, insisting there would be a change in workplace culture and acknowledging public perception of the revolving door at the top office.

“I am the new guy,” Shride told an audience at a Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry luncheon a few months after his arrival. “If you’re having a bit of deja vu, I can understand that.”

Now Ascension is looking for another leader at the hospital at a time when negotiations with union nurses over a contract that expired in July has led to two strikes and two lockouts totaling eight days off the job in recent months.

Shride “has made the difficult decision to step down,” Ascension said in a statement issued by email from spokesman Timothy Nelson.

His departure is effective Dec. 31.

“He has been a dedicated servant leader and we wish him every happiness and success as he moves on to the next chapter in his career,” the statement read. “An interim president has been identified and will begin prior to Shride’s exit, ensuring a smooth transition and continuity of hospital operations and care.”

Ascension did not provide information about why Shride is leaving or where he is going. The interim president was not named.

Top executives have been coming and going as the Joliet hospital has gone through changes of ownership and restructuring that has seen the corporate name change from Provena to Presence to AMITA to Ascension. The AMITA name still is on hospital signage.

The hospital’s name has changed so many times in the last several years that police and fire authorities rarely use the latest official name, which since April 2022 has been “Ascension Saint Joseph – Joliet” without use of the word hospital or medical center, in referring to the facility in official statements announcing crime and accident victims being hospitalized.

Shride’s departure in less than two years is closer to the norm than the exception.

“The hospital has been in existence for 120 years, and in the last 20 years, there have been nine CEOs or presidents,” said Pat Meade, a nurse and union official who is on the negotiating team in the current contract talks. “We’ve also had four restructures. It speaks to the structure and foundation of the hospital. The only constant is the nurses.”

Union nurses on strike on Tuesday, Nov. 21, at Ascension Saint Joseph – Joliet Hospital, 333 Madison St., Joliet.

But the nursing staff, too, has become less constant, one of the top issues in the contract talks.

Nurses, represented by the Illinois Nurses Association, contend that Ascension is staffing the hospital with contracted agency nurses as regular staff nurses depart for better pay and working conditions elsewhere.

The number of union nurses at the hospital has fallen from 800 to fewer than 530 since a last contract dispute was resolved with a strike in 2020, according to the INA.

Shride arrived less than two years after the July 2020 strike and addressed workplace culture during his talk to the Joliet chamber in May 2022.

He said then there was a commitment to an “authentically loving and caring” environment at the hospital.

”We have to do that first with our associates and our medical staff,” he said. “We are working very hard to change our culture.”