MACHIAS, Maine — After months of sometimes contentious negotiations and public posturing, Down East Community Hospital has reached a new three-year contract with a Maine State Nurses Association bargaining unit that includes 60 nurses and technical staff in the radiology, clinical laboratory and cardiopulmonary departments.
The 25-bed hospital and the union had been embroiled in efforts to reach a new work agreement since last fall. Those represented by the union had been working without a contract since Jan. 12, 2012, when the old agreement expired. Talks have been under way since last November and eventually went to federal mediation.
The union has been critical of the hospital’s reliance on “travelers,” who are temporary workers hired to provide essential nursing service, claiming DECH spent $758,000 last year on temporary staff. The union wants to see that money go to nurses who are local and regional residents.
Julie Hixson, a hospital spokesperson, said the hospital’s goals have included minimizing reliance on travelers. In October 2011 she said, the hospital had 16 traveling staff under contract, but now has fewer than five.
“During negotiations the union speculated that patient safety would be at risk if the hospital were unable to recruit or retain nurses on the night shift,” Hixson said. “However, the stated hospital goal throughout was to seek a competitive base salary for staff on both the day shift and night shift, and that has been achieved.”
“I am excited that we were able to work together to reach an agreement,” said Chief Nursing Officer Rob Janssen. “I look forward to our continued efforts to make Down East Community the best choice for the people of Washington County.”