July 22, 2018
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Nurses union plans vigil in Calais to protest hospital budget cuts

By Tim Cox, BDN Staff

CALAIS, Maine — A union representing nurses at Calais Regional Hospital is planning a candlelight vigil Wednesday night to protest hospital budget reductions it says have impacted staffing and services.

The hospital has reduced hours for 90 employees and laid off a handful of workers as part of an effort to rein in a deficit of more than $500,000 in the first two months of the fiscal year.

Hospital administrators eliminated the special care unit and reduced service hours in the cardiac, pediatrics and infusions departments, noted Vanessa Sylvester, a spokeswoman for the Maine State Nurses Association/National Nurses United, which planned a candlelight vigil 6-8 p.m. Wednesday at Triangle Park in downtown Calais. The hospital also has made reductions in the in-patient unit, causing additional patient transfers because of a shortage of nurses on particular shifts, according to Sylvester.

The eliminations and reductions “will cause hardships to patients and their families who will be forced to seek care up to two hours away in addition to being costly,” she said in a statement issued Monday.

The hospital also has reduced the hours of dozens of frontline and ancillary staff, which could lead to safety issues as well as exacerbate the need to transfer patients because of shortages, according to Sylvester.

The administration has proposed eliminating five nursing positions, she said Tuesday, and the union is opposing the action. The union also is “extremely concerned” by cuts to laboratory, housekeeping and other personnel, she said — cuts that directly impact how the hospital provides care.

The union asked the hospital to rescind the cuts to staff and services and re-prioritize spending. It also called on the administration to end a contract with Quorum Health Resources, an out-of-state consulting firm that is paid $412,000 annually, and to review billing practices.

“These reductions are unacceptable,” Rebecca LaCasse, a registered nurse at the hospital, said in the statement issued by the union. “We are afraid that some patients will not get the care they need.”

The hospital responded to the union’s allegations in a statement distributed by spokeswoman DeeDee Travis on Tuesday afternoon.

“We believe Calais Regional Hospital can continue to provide safe and high quality patient care with the support of our employees, including our valued nurses,” the hospital said in the release. “Cost containment procedures are not unique to CRH, the industry or our region; such moves are underway as the hospital works to provide the best patient care and medical technology commensurate with our available resources.”

Quorum Health Resources has been a “management partner” of the hospital for more than 25 years, according to Travis, who confirmed that hospital CEO Michael Lally and Nancy Glidden, chief financial officer, are Quorum employees under the hospital’s contract with the Tennessee-based consulting firm.

The reduction in personnel hours is the equivalent of 20 full-time positions or 8 percent of the hospital’s workforce of 265 people, Glidden said recently. Four employees were laid off, she said.

The reduction in hours varied by department and position, Glidden said, and some employees lost only an hour per week.

A March 31 memorandum from Lally to employees noted that the hospital has a deficit of more than $500,000 just two months into the fiscal year.

“We must bring our staffing into alignment with how our community is utilizing our services,” Lally wrote. The hospital is staffed at higher levels than others of similar size and volume, he said.

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