News & Events

Minnesota Nurses Conduct Largest Strike in U.S. History

The chief medical officer of Allina Hospitals & Clinics said Thursday morning that Twin Cities hospitals were operating smoothly despite a walkout by 12,000 members of the Minnesota Nurses Association.

"Months of planning, for something we hoped would never happen, have paid off,” Dr. Penny Wheeler said at a late-morning news conference.

Wheeler said the 14 affected hospitals had performed 36 surgeries, delivered 14 babies and cared for 2,407 patients during the early hours of the strike.

She acknowledged, however, that hospitals are operating well below normal capacity because they ramped down patient volumes in anticipation of the strike. At Abbott Northwestern, for example, Thursday’s patient census was 299, compared to 500 on a normal day.

Across the Twin Cities, there were reports of sporadic disruptions to care, such as patients being diverted to hospitals that are not targeted by the strike.

Wheeler said hospitals divert patients even on normal days couldn’t say whether Thursday’s events were unusual.

At Abbott, she said, the transition to substitute nurses occurred smoothly. In the hospital’s delivery ward it took place in the middle of a Caesarean-section delivery of twins. The surgery went fine, she said, and the babies were healthy.

The biggest nursing strike in American history began early Thursday as hundreds of nurses, clad in red t-shirts and waving picket signs, swarmed the sidewalks surrounding Abbott Northwestern, Fairview Southdale, North Memorial and other Twin Cities hospitals. Virtually all of the union’s 12,000 members were expected to participate in what is planned as a 24-hour walkout.

Outside United Hospital in downtown St. Paul, about 100 nurses paraded and chanted under the watchful gaze of a dozen security guards.

"It’s pretty much business as usual, but with a lot fewer patients," said hospital spokeswoman Terri Dresen, standing in the nearly deserted lobby.