BANGOR, Maine — A few days before their next contract negotiation session, unionized nurses at Eastern Maine Medical Center on Wednesday took aim at administrators’ claims that staffing levels at the 400-bed hospital are in keeping with — and often higher than — nationally accepted standards.
Contract talks with a federal mediator are scheduled to resume on Monday, Feb. 28.
A report published on the hospital’s website shows that for the past five months, staffing has been in keeping with accepted standards, starting with “nationally accepted guidelines for optimum nurse staffing on a shift, and then adjust[ing] for patient acuity, nursing skill mix and admission and discharge activity.”
The report includes detailed information about scheduled and actual staffing on the hospital’s adult inpatient units dating back to August 2010, the month before the nurses’ three-year contract at EMMC expired.
According to Vanessa Sylvester of the Maine State Nurses Association, the data used to compile the report is misleading and incomplete. For example, she said, the patient census reflected in the report does not include patients assigned to a unit’s charge nurse. In addition, she said, the “nationally accepted” staffing levels referenced in the hospital report are based on a New England Journal of Medicine article from 2003 that draws on data from the 1990s. Technology, patient acuity and other factors have changed much in intervening years and should be reflected in any current staffing plan, Sylvester said.
But Lorraine Rodgerson, vice president for nursing services at EMMC, said the nurses are off base.
“I am 100 percent certain that this data is accurate,” she said in a telephone interview. Rodgerson said the staffing information in the report is compiled from actual patient assignment sheets and reflects any changes from scheduled staffing that may have occurred.
Nurses and their supporters have picketed recently outside businesses owned by hospital board members.
Greg Howat, vice president for human resources and chief negotiator for the hospital, said nurses are following a pattern of drumming up support for the staffing issue in the days leading up to a negotiating session.
“It’s really more for public consumption than any real reflection of what’s on the table,” he said. Howat said other issues, including health care coverage, remain contentious challenges to reaching an agreement. Howat maintains that the Maine nursing union, which is affiliated with the California Nurses Association, is reflecting a “national agenda” to safeguard nurses’ jobs in a changing health care environment.