Mediator to referee contract talks between home health agency, nurses

Posted Jan. 30, 2013, at 3:53 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2013, at 6:22 p.m.

SACO, Maine — A federal mediator has been called in to referee contract negotiations between HomeHealth Visiting Nurses of Southern Maine and the agency’s unionized nurses and clinicians.

HHVN, a division of MaineHealth that serves patients at their homes in York, Cumberland and southern Oxford counties, has been negotiating with MSNA since October. The 60 unionized nurses and clinicians at HHVN’s Cumberland division want the agency to hire more registered nurses and stop forcing staff to work beyond their regularly scheduled shifts in non-emergency situations, according to MSNA spokeswoman Vanessa Sylvester.

The nurses’ two-year contract, which has been extended twice, will expire at midnight on Thursday, Sylvester said.

In a recent press release, MSNA said the Cumberland division of HHVN has had “an increasingly alarming rate of turnover” in the last eight months, with more than 14 clinicians leaving the agency and another resignation this week.

“Home health patients are often the most vulnerable patients in our communities as they are recently released from hospitals or rehab facilities and the timely care from nurses and clinicians are a vital piece to their recovery,” Angie Eccles, a registered nurse at HHVN, said in the release. “We are hoping that HHVN will work with us in contract [negotiations] to make improvements to working conditions to end this chronic staffing shortage and high rate of turnover.”

HHVN said in a statement that it could not comment on specific provisions of its proposal to the union due to the ongoing negotiations. But in response to MSNA’s release, Mia Millefoglie, the agency’s vice president of development and marketing, disputed that the quality of patient care had been affected.

The care delivered by HHVN’s clinicians is reflected in the agency’s top publicly reported quality scores and high levels of patient satisfaction, she said in a statement. HHVN also was ranked among the top 25 percent of agencies nationally in the 2012 HomeCare Elite list, a compilation of the top-performing home health agencies ranked for quality and patient satisfaction measures, Millefoglie said.

MSNA also called for better communication between the agency’s administration and front-line nursing and clinical staff. The union proposed “many items in contract negotiations that would compel HHVN to fully and appropriately staff their agency in order that they can continue to care for the home health patients in the Cumberland County areas,” the release said.

The next bargaining sessions between the MSNA and the agency are scheduled for Thursday.

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