The Maine State Nurses Association announced Friday that it has filed an unfair labor practice charge against Eastern Maine Medical Center with the National Labor Relations Board. The complaint alleges the hospital engaged in delaying tactics by refusing to provide patient care records that would support the nurses’ assertion that chronic understaffing puts patient care at risk.
Records sought by the MSNA include those showing exactly what time patients received ordered medications compared to the time physicians ordered the medications to be given and the incidence of adult patients being cared for on the pediatric, obstetric and rehabilitation floors.
“This is a function of staffing, and we really need to have this information in order to formulate our proposals,” said Vanessa Sylvester of the MSNA. Sylvester said the nurses’ bargaining team initially requested the information July 12 and has since refined the request in response to the hospital’s complaint that it constituted an “undue burden.”
Hospital officials said Friday that the National Labor Relations Board filing is “unfounded.” Some of the requested information had been provided “over the past several months,” said chief negotiator Greg Howat, but the MSNA team has been unavailable to discuss what additional records are needed and appropriate.
The staffing issue is pivotal to contract negotiations between the MSNA and hospital administrators. Those talks ground to a halt earlier this week, paving the way for a scheduled one-day nursing strike and an additional two-day lockout. The three-day work stoppage will go into effect at 7 a.m. Saturday. Replacement nurses have been brought to Bangor to care for patients at the 400-bed hospital.
The MSNA also faulted the hospital for having made preliminary contact with the Freedom Healthcare Staffing agency as far back as March of this year regarding the possibility of providing replacement nurses in the event of a strike.
“It seems they never intended to bargain with us, whatever issues we brought to the table,” Sylvester said.
But Howat said it is standard bargaining practice to lay the groundwork for a possible strike.
“We take very seriously our obligation to ensure patient care is provided and that the community health is not at risk,” he said. “We have been prepared for a long time, but this does not reflect on our bargaining posture.”