PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — After four months of negotiations, officials at The Aroostook Medical Center have reached a tentative agreement with the facility’s registered nurses regarding their two-year contract.
While the 150 nurses in the local Maine State Nurses Association Unit 7631 voted last week to ratify the contract, the hospital’s board of directors has not. The board will meet Wednesday morning to cast a vote on the matter.
Nurses at TAMC voted in September to authorize a strike if a growing dispute over staffing levels at the Academy Street facility was not resolved. The nurses union had been in negotiations with hospital management since June. The nurses’ contract initially was set to expire in August but was extended until Sept. 22. It again expired and was not extended.
During negotiations, nurses 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. Lori McPherson, the president of the nurse’s union and a registered nurse in the recovery room, said the nurses were pushing for the hospital to retrain and recruit nurses in order to protect patient care, but management had been unwilling to agree to the requested provisions
According to union members, the contract ratified by the nurses includes “many new patient safety provisions that was the key issue for the nurses.”
The tentative agreement allows for increased staffing in the emergency department, which includes a charge nurse position. The charge nurse will not have a patient assignment during peak periods. As part of the tentative contract, nurses were able to keep TAMC’s contribution for their insurance at the same percentage until December 2012. Safe patient handling language also is included in the proposed agreement.
“Our ability to provide quality and safe care to our patients depends on hospitals maintaining minimum RN-to-patient staffing,” said Liane Koch, a registered nurse in TAMC’s labor and delivery department. “Safe staffing provisions are also critical to our ability to retain and recruit experienced registered nurses who can deliver that care.”
McPherson said she believes the nurses were “successful in winning what we believed was best for our patients and our profession, and ultimately our hospital.”
Joy Barresi Saucier, vice president of organizational advancement at TAMC, said Tuesday afternoon that she did not want to comment on the tentative agreement at this point.
“This has been a very complex process and we still have some steps to go through,” she said. “I can’t comment on any of the specifics about this tentative agreement yet, as our full board has not had a chance to discuss it in depth and they haven’t voted to ratify it.”
Neither party would comment on whether the agreement includes the 7 percent increase in compensation for the nurses, which the nurses sought along with the patient safety provisions.
Hospital officials consistently have maintained that TAMC is a safe facility and that patient care and safety are a major priority. Barresi Saucier also has pointed out that the hospital does not have a high nursing vacancy rate. Barresi Saucier said TAMC’s nursing vacancy rate is less than 4 percent.