EMMC nurses vote to authorize a second one-day strike

Joined by supporters, off-duty registered nurses covered by the union contract at Eastern Maine Medical Center picketed in front of the hospital on State Street in Bangor in Oct. 2010.
Joined by supporters, off-duty registered nurses covered by the union contract at Eastern Maine Medical Center picketed in front of the hospital on State Street in Bangor in Oct. 2010.
Posted April 12, 2011, at 10:08 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Unionized nurses working without a contract at Eastern Maine Medical Center voted on Tuesday to authorize their bargaining team to call a strike if contract talks on Wednesday fail to reach an agreement.

“Nurses voted today to authorize” a second one-day strike, Vanessa Sylvester of the Maine State Nurses Association said in an email Tuesday night. “This vote is an example of the nurses’ commitment to patient safety at EMMC.”

There are several areas of unresolved disagreement in the negotiations. Primarily, the nurses, whose previous three-year contract expired at the end of September, are demanding that the hospital include formulas for nurse staffing levels as part of the new contract. Other issues include health insurance and job security.

“The Medical Center continues to allow staff shortages resulting in bed closures, longer waits in the emergency room and other delays of care,” said Sylvester, who is the Maine collective bargaining coordinator.

Nurses say routine understaffing at the 400-bed hospital sets the stage for medication errors, the spread of infection and other patient safety problems. Working under the stress of understaffing also erodes nurses’ job satisfaction and contributes to the shortage of nurses in the health care work force, according to the nurses.

Hospital officials maintain that nurse staffing levels at EMMC are in keeping with national standards and that patients receive high-quality care. They are adamant that staffing decisions must be made by hospital administrators in order to respond to changes in patient acuity, hospital census, reimbursement levels and matters of public policy related to health care reform.

The Maine State Nurses Association, which represents the approximately 830 staff nurses at EMMC, is affiliated with the California Nurses Association and the National Nurse Organizing Committee. On a nationwide basis, both groups promote increased nurse staffing levels as a means to improving patient safety in hospitals.

Several hospitals in Massachusetts are expecting nurses to strike on April 22 over the issue of staffing levels.

EMMC nurses staged a one-day strike in November. The hospital extended the work stoppage two more days and brought in about 200 replacement nurses from around the country to care for patients.

Both sides now say they hope to avoid a repeat of the November strike.

“MSNA sincerely hopes that in bargaining tomorrow, the Medical Center’s administration will finally address the issues of patient safety,” Sylvester said Tuesday.

BDN writer Nok-Noi Ricker contributed to this report.

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