ELLSWORTH, Maine — About 50 Maine Coast Memorial Hospital workers voted to unionize in search of what a union spokeswoman described Friday as safer staffing levels and improved patient care.
About 93 percent of the hospital’s eligible laboratory technicians, respiratory therapists and licensed practical nurses voted to join Maine State Nurses Association in secret balloting this week, said Vanessa Sylvester, a spokeswoman for National Nurses United, which the association is part of.
Hospital leadership is “disappointed” with the vote, but will work with the union in good faith, spokeswoman Kelley Anne Columber said Saturday.
The vote comes comes three months after seven physicians resigned from the hospital. Hospital officials have said the departures occurred due to changes made to improve quality, but other physicians who have left said the turnover stems from the administration’s increasingly caustic relationship with providers.
Sylvester declined to discuss whether the union vote is a result of disputes with management over patient-care standards, but hinted that they might predate the hospital’s present administration.
“These issues have been going on for some time,” Sylvester said.
Election results must be certified by the National Labor Relations Board before the union can form, Columber said.
“While we are disappointed with the results of the election and prefer to work with our employees directly, we remain committed to supporting this group and all of our employees,” Columber said in a statement.
Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems acquired Maine Coast in 2015 and, Ronan has said, has made changes to improve care. The changes include allowing doctors within the system to fill shifts at various emergency departments depending on need.
But that move proved unpopular with some doctors, and some patients complained that the changes had reduced the quality of their hospital stays.
Hospital administrations statewide have been forced to adapt to difficult economic conditions. About half of Maine’s 36 hospitals lost money in 2014, according to the Maine Health Data Organization. Maine Hospital Association data show about half of Maine hospitals were in the red in 2015 and 2016.
The new union members will elect leaders to begin negotiating a contract with the hospital’s management.
Maine Coast is a 64-bed, full-service hospital serving Hancock and western Washington counties with emergency, primary and specialty care acute inpatient, diagnostic and surgical services, according to its website.
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