EMMC officials, nurses meet but can’t solve standoff

By Meg Haskell, BDN Staff
Posted Feb. 28, 2011, at 6:17 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Once again, unionized nurses working without a contract and administrators at Eastern Maine Medical Center failed to reach an agreement after the two sides reconvened on Monday to resume stalled negotiations.

Negotiating teams have been meeting since last August to draft acceptable contract language, but talks quickly stalled over a few key issues, including health insurance, safeguards against being laid off, and nurse-to-patient staffing levels.

The nurses maintain that the hospital routinely understaffs inpatient units, putting patients at risk for medication errors and other complications. The hospital says staffing meets or exceeds national standards. The nurses’ previous three-year contract expired at the end of September.

Registered nurse Judy Brown, president of the Maine State Nurses Association bargaining unit at EMMC, said the negotiating teams did not meet face to face Monday but instead communicated through the federal mediator assigned to the deliberations. After a few rounds of back-and-forth proposals, the mediator told both sides there appeared to be no room for compromise on the staffing issue, Brown said, and the session was adjourned.

“We’re really very disappointed and dismayed that they’re unwilling to consider any of our patient safety concerns,” Brown said Monday. While all the nurses are eager for the talks to be settled and a new contract signed, Brown said, the staffing issue is too important to give up on.

“We are firmly resolved to not accept substandard language when it comes to patient safety,” she said.

In a statement e-mailed late Monday afternoon, EMMC officials said progress has been made on some issues, including ways to address nurses’ staffing concerns without the use of nurse-to-patient ratios.

“While it looks like progress is not being made, over the course of the last several months, we have been able to reach some agreeable compromises,” said Greg Howat, the hospital’s vice president of human resources and education.

The two sides will meet again with the federal mediator on Wednesday, April 13.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/02/28/health/emmc-officials-nurses-meet-but-can%e2%80%99t-solve-standoff/ printed on October 1, 2014