Joliet legislator introduces bill to protect nurse staffing at hospitals

Hospitals could lose their license for repeat offenses in proposed law

State Senator Rachel Ventura, a Joliet resident, support the St. Joseph nurses during a picket outside St. Joseph Hospital as contract negotiations continue on Thursday, July 20th, 2023 in Joliet.

State Sen. Rachel Ventura, D-Joliet, has introduced a bill that would stiffen penalties Ascension Saint Joseph-Joliet hospital would face for falling short on state staffing requirements.

Ventura is bringing the proposed law amid a nine-month contract standoff between Ascension and union nurses at the Joliet hospital in which staffing has been a central issue.

Ascension Saint Joseph–Joliet is the only hospital in the state to have been found in violation of the law and has been flagged three times, Ventura said.

“This is not about all hospitals,” she said. “This is about one bad actor.”

Senate Bill 3217 would add the threat of taking away a hospital’s license to operate for repeat violations, Ventura said. Fines would increase from $500 to $1,000 for first offenses and from $1,000 to $5,000 for second offenses.

Nurses continue their strike outside Ascension Saint Joseph Joliet on Thursday, Feb. 8th 2024 in Joliet.

Ventura, who has joined Joliet nurses at rallies to support their side in the contract battle with Ascension, issued a news release on the bill saying it was developed in response to the situation at Saint Joseph-Joliet hospital.

“There needs to be accountability for hospitals who negotiate and operate in bad faith,” Ventura said in the release. “Numerous nursing strikes have gone on and yet no changes have been implemented — it’s dangerous to the patient and nurses to be understaffed.”

Union nurses at Saint Joseph-Joliet last week conducted their third short-term strike since contract talks began in May.

Illinois does not set specific staffing levels at hospitals.

But a law passed in 2021 requires hospitals to develop staffing plans and create boards to oversee implementation. Ventura said Ascension Saint Joseph–Joliet only took those steps after being found in violation and then was cited for not following its own plan.

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

Ascension did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment on the Ventura bill and her claims that the Joliet hospital repeatedly violated the state law.

Last month, Ascension pointed to a favorable decision over a union staffing grievance quoting the arbitrator saying the Joliet hospital “is doing everything it can to improve staffing.”

Ventura mentioned the ruling in her release but said Tuesday that the arbitrator’s decision was based on contract issues and not staffing requirements in state law.

Her news release includes a statement from Joliet nurse Beth Corsetti stating, “It’s dangerous the way things are currently and I’m relieved that our complaints are being recognized.”