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EMMC’s nurses still fighting for adequate staffing

Bangor Daily News, 2/22/11

By Mark Doty and Adam Goode
Bangor Daily News
February 21, 2011

Nurses from EMMC have had to strike over patient safety and safe staffing — so why haven’t EMMC and the EMHS board of directors listened? For the past eight months we’ve had hundreds of nurses telling the community that because of staffing shortages, nurses at EMCC cannot consistently provide their patients adequate care.

The National Institutes of Health estimates that 98,000 patients die a year in U.S. hospitals due to avoidable error and staff shortages. Registered nurses intercept 86 percent of all medication errors. If assignments were held to no more than five patients, there would be 7 percent fewer deaths in certain departments, including surgical ones. Almost every year a new study is published indicating safe staffing saves lives.

Yet since 2009, EMMC has eliminated nearly 100 nursing positions. Although no layoffs occurred for RNs, the medical center administration has insisted on restructuring by leaving vacancies unfilled, despite staff nurse opposition. Losing over 10 percent of the work force, while people still need the hospital, has had enormous effects. This restructuring has created increased patient assignments for staff nurses, especially during the 7 to 11 p.m. period in the towers where a second shift was virtually eliminated.

Short staffing results in higher unsafe patient assignment for nurses who frequently do not have time for meal or bathroom breaks. Nurses are unable to administer medications on time, or provide full therapeutic care including walking and bathing patients because of a lack of nurses. These are working conditions that few other professions tolerate, so why should we tolerate it in a profession that is responsible for people’s lives?

Nurses at EMMC are members of our community and are committed to providing safe, quality care to patients. EMMC nurses have been struggling to secure more resources to provide more staff at the medical center. Why are the EMMC administration and EMMC and EMHS boards so unwilling to work with the nurses on providing safe staffing?

Instead, EMMC and EMHS have authorized:

  • Prolonged and expensive bargaining where representatives of EMMC have wasted time and appear to have bargained in bad faith.
  • Hiring an expensive Portland law firm specializing in union busting.
  • Spending over $60,000 on newspaper advertisements disparaging EMMC nurses.
  • Spending money on salaries, meals and travel for 300 replacement nurses for a two-day lockout and one-day strike.

It would appear that the board really has no intention of settling the contract with the registered nurses and we have to ask ourselves why. The nurses have stated again and again that they are flexible with their issues but need the medical center to address the staffing issue. It does not appear that EMMC or EMHS have financial difficulties because they have spent over $1 million on replacement workers alone.

It is highly concerning that EMMC and EMHS would not want this matter settled. It is hard to understand why they wouldn’t want to work with the nurses to alleviate the staffing issues rather than continue to spend money fighting them. Furthermore, it is unjust that patient care dollars and state and federal tax dollars are also being spent on fighting the nurses.

EMMC states that: “Under community direction, it has grown from a five-bed general hospital into a comprehensive, 411-bed medical center.” Has the community given EMMC management the direction to cut the nurse work force by over 100 positions or to lock out the nurses? EMMC does not pay property taxes, since it claims to be a charitable institution providing care to all regardless of an ability to pay and a major portion of its income derives from Medicare and Medicaid payments. This is the community’s hospital.

We would hope the boards of both EMMC and EMHS will reflect upon this issue of staffing and respect for their employees and ask what do they hope to accomplish by keeping staffing levels at a place that their own professional nursing staff is uncomfortable with.

The Rev. Mark Doty and Rep. Adam Goode are members of the Steering Committee of the Worker Rights Board of Eastern Maine, which includes 32 religious, academic, business and elected leaders.

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