EMMC nurses file federal complaint

Posted Jan. 18, 2011, at 6:24 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 18, 2011, at 7:09 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine  —  Nurses and administrators at Eastern Maine Medical Center are scheduled to return to contract talks Jan. 31, but the Maine State Nurses Association on Tuesday announced the recent filing of an unfair labor practices complaint against the hospital.

The complaint was filed last week with the National Labor Relations Board and alleges that the hospital discourages staff nurses from filling out a union document known as an “assignment despite objection” form when they feel their patient load puts patient safety at risk.

In a press release, the MSNA charged the hospital with maintaining a “culture of discouraging nurses from filling out these forms” and of intimidating nurses who advocate for their patients.

Lorraine Rodgerson, EMMC’s vice president for nursing services, said the hospital has its own process for nurses to follow if they have staffing-related concerns about patient safety.

“Our expectation is that the nurses have a professional responsibility and accountability to bring their concerns to the attention of their immediate supervisor,” Rodgerson said. That way, shift supervisors can respond right away to unsafe conditions, she said, by having the charge nurse take on more patient care duties or by transferring a high-needs patient to a different unit.

“But if it is determined that an assignment is not a problem, we don’t fix it,” she said.

The nursing contract at EMMC expired at the end of August. Talks are stalemated over several issues, the most intractable of which is nurse-to-patient staffing levels. Nurses want minimum staffing levels included in their new three-year contract, but the hospital insists staffing decisions must remain an administrative role and responsive to changing conditions in the health care system.

The federal complaint filed last week is the second brought against EMMC by the nursing union. The first, filed in November, alleged that the hospital engaged in delaying tactics during negotiations by refusing to provide patient care records that support nurses’ assertions that chronic understaffing puts patient safety at risk.

Contract talks with a federal mediator are scheduled to resume Jan. 31 in Bangor. Judy Brown, president of the nurses union at EMMC, said Tuesday that nurses are hopeful that the hospital will bargain in good faith on the staffing issue.

“We are ready for a new relationship at EMMC — one that is respectful of nurses and where patient safety is the bottom line,” she said.

Rodgerson said hospital negotiators are “cautiously optimistic” that progress toward an agreement can be made.

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