Presque Isle hospital, nurses meeting with mediator

Posted Oct. 06, 2010, at 4:31 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 11:50 a.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Officials with The Aroostook Medical Center said Wednesday that hospital leaders and TAMC nurses had a “productive day” of negotiations with a federal mediator on Wednesday and that a second meeting is scheduled with the mediator next week.

Nurses at TAMC voted last week to authorize a strike if a growing dispute over safe staffing at the Academy Street facility is not met. Most of the 150 nurses in the local Maine State Nurses Association Unit 7631 showed up to vote, according to a union representative, and approximately 95 percent of the nurses voting supported the intent to strike, which eventually could lead to a one-day strike.

“I believe it was a productive day, and several items were worked on,” Joy Barresi Saucier, vice president of organizational advancement at TAMC, said Wednesday afternoon.

Lori McPherson, president of the nurses’ union, said that the organization has been in negotiations with management since June. The nurses’ contract initially was set to expire in August but was extended until Sept. 22. It has since expired and will not be extended again.

Nurses have proposed “safe staffing” language, which they say a recent study from the University of Pennsylvania shows will reduce patient mortality rates, reduce medication errors and ensure nurses more time to spend with patients. McPherson said the nurses want to see the hospital retrain and recruit nurses in order to protect patient care, but management has been unwilling to agree to the requested provisions.

The nurses union also is seeking a 7 percent increase in compensation for its members.

Hospital officials maintain that the hospital is a safe facility and that patient care and safety is a major priority. Barresi Saucier said the median annual salary for registered nurses in the local union was $58,000, plus benefits, in 2009.

She also pointed out that the hospital does not have a high nursing vacancy rate, which reflects the number of open positions. Barresi Saucier said TAMC’s nursing vacancy rate is less than 4 percent.

The hospital vice president said Wednesday that issues related to patient safety and wages are still unsettled following Tuesday’s negotiations, but said TAMC officials “remain hopeful that we will come to a resolution.”

She said the nurses union had not voiced plans to strike as of Wednesday evening.

If the nurses decide to strike, they will give the hospital 10 days’ notice.

The hospital has made contingency plans in case the one-day strike does occur, according to Barresi Saucier. She said that even if there is a strike, the care patients receive will not change, nor will services be disrupted.

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