Millinocket Regional Hospital nurses seeking a new contract threatened to strike for one day if administrators do not add another position.
The 33 nurses of Maine State Nurses Association Local No. 1082 voted “overwhelmingly” last month to allow negotiators to call a strike should talks break down, union steward Terrylyn Bradbury said Wednesday. No strike date has been set.
Under state law, the union must give MRH 10 days warning — which gives the hospital plenty of time to prepare so that patients won’t be affected, she said.
“We truly do not want to strike. We just want to maintain the care that we already give at this hospital,” union President Monique Babineau said. “If we do have to strike, we will have nurses in scrubs standing by so we can run in and help if they need us.”
Millinocket Regional serves northern Penobscot County, including the Katahdin region and parts of the Lincoln Lakes region, plus Baxter State Park, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument and southern Aroostook County.
The administration’s only comment came from its vice president of human resources, Lisa A. Arsenault, who said that it hopes to set a new contract at the next bargaining session, on Aug. 17.
At issue, Babineau said, is the union’s desire to set a five-nurse minimum staffing level — two nurses on the medical-surgical floor, one in the intensive care unit, and two in the emergency room.
Administrators, she said, have refused to place a second nurse on the medical-surgical floor. That’s where inpatients, including those recovering from surgery, are treated, Bradbury said.
The shortfall threatens staff and patient safety and the hospital’s ability to recruit, Babineau said.
“Especially on night shifts, if you have one nurse, and they are young, just coming out of school, they don’t have the experience or the confidence to work by themselves,” Babineau said.
“We are really proud of our hospital. We feel we give really good care. We feel the hospital has done nothing to even encourage us not to strike,” Babineau added.
The last contract, which ran for two years, expired on May 31, but was extended to July 3. A federal mediator is working with both sides.
A registered nurse at MRH for 34 years, Bradbury said the nurses have never struck before. They did vote to authorize strikes in 2006 and 2003, Babineau said.