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Patient safety should be a priority everywhere

Bangor Daily News, 4/15/11

By: Diane Alexander, RN and Connie Brown, RN
Special to the Bangor Daily News
April 15, 2011

The disrespect Eastern Maine Medical Center Board Chairman Mike McInnis shows in his March 19 commentary toward nurses who have devoted years of service to our patients and our community, and his dismissive tone about our serious concerns about patient safety, demonstrates why we continue to have a dispute at EMMC.

Nurses are patient advocates. Our ethical obligation, our expertise and our fundamental priority is to protect our patients, even when forced to work overtime hours, when confronted with an often uncaring health care system, and when we have to battle with hospital managers to make sure our patients receive the care they need.

From the outset, we have said patient safety must be addressed at EMMC. No one feels the brunt of steadily reduced resources for more and sicker patients than the front-line bedside nurse.
The distortions and accusations about our alleged motives by hospital administrators, including Mr. McInnis, cannot mask the plain truth those of us at the bedside see every day.

Unsafe staffing is a reality at EMMC, and that is why the nurses who work here are trying to improve those conditions. Nurses are not able to spend the time needed to provide safe, effective and therapeutic patient care due to these staffing shortages.

According to the hospital’s own information, many medications are not administered on time. EMMC does not follow its own staffing plans, and although they assert that they staff by acuity (how sick the patient is), they do not keep any sort of acuity records. Staffing is so bare-boned that when a nurse is out sick, shortages may occur hospital-wide and cause backups in the emergency department and bed closures on the floors.

In a recent report on patient outcomes, EMMC had more poor ratings than excellent.

The hospital’s own numbers found that in 2009, 72.4 percent of nurses worked overtime and an average of 120 hours of extra or overtime was worked per nurse.

Nurses want a hospital that excels. Is the administration’s explanation about our alarm at eroding safety conditions really that we, the nurses who care for and comfort our neighbors when they are at their most ill and vulnerable, have to be told by a national union that we should care about safe staffing?

We are proud to be a part of a national organization that represents registered nurses in every state in the U.S. and has the support of nurses across the country because of an unparalleled track record of promoting patient protection, even when it conflicts with the profit motive of an increasingly insensitive hospital industry.

This ad hominem attack on us, and the hospital’s stubborn refusal to work with us to find a fair and common-sense solution to our differences, in fact suggests that another agenda may well be in play here.

Maine is in another battle today as well, with a governor who, following a national agenda pursued by governors in many states such as Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan, is attempting to strip away the collective voice of working people. We do not think the convergent anti-union program advocated by Mr. McInnis and other EMMC officials is a coincidence.

Readers should be clear: The issues and decisions made by Maine nurses in the Maine State Nurses Association stem from the experiences we share in our practices in Maine hospitals and agencies. Our local and statewide leadership is elected by Maine nurses. Our EMMC leadership and our bargaining team are elected by the nurses at the facility. All of our negotiations are open to our members, and every step is discussed with our entire membership. The same cannot be said about the EMMC board of trustees, whose meetings are not open to the community they ostensibly represent.

There is too much at stake for EMMC to continue its hard-line approach. Let’s try to work on a solution that serves the health and safety of our patients and our community.

Diane Alexander and Connie Brown are nurses at Eastern Maine Medical Center and elected members of the nurses’ bargaining team.

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