PRESQUE ISLE – Nurses at The Aroostook Medical Center are currently working without a contract, following negotiations facilitated by a mediator between the nurses’ union and TAMC officials July 3, with talks set to continue later in the month.
Staff photo/Kathy McCarty
TAMC NURSES, their family and friends lined Main Street in downtown Presque Isle July 1, holding a candlelight vigil to raise public awareness of the nursing shortage at the hospital and ways to improve the situation that will benefit not just the nurses but their patients as well.
Nurses took to Main Street the evening of July 1, holding a candlelight vigil to raise public awareness to their concerns. Over 160 nurses, family and friends turned out for the event, holding candles as they lined both sides of the street in downtown Presque Isle. Asking drivers to “honk your horns” in support of the nurses, many a passing vehicle did so, to cheers from those in attendance.
Mark Morrow, an RN at TAMC and chief steward for Local 7631, the nurses’ union, was on hand for the event.
“We’re trying to advocate for more competitive wages to keep nurses and recruit new ones,” said Morrow. “Currently we’re paid wages nurses at EMMC received in 1998. TAMC officials need to be willing to step up to the plate.”
Morrow said it’s not about the money but patient care.
“It’s not like we’re just demanding money for money’s sake. It’s a matter of paying a wage that will keep nurses,” said Morrow. “Nurses are in demand. If TAMC’s not competitive, we won’t be able to recruit nurses. We worry about that.”
Morrow said the hospital has already had to cut services due to a lack of nursing staff.
“We had to close the PCU (progressive care unit) down to six patients instead of 11 because we didn’t have the staff. That’s essentially the cardiac ward,” said Morrow, adding that decreases in service on such units have a trickle-down effect in other areas of the hospital.
“Shutting down beds affects how the ER does its job and whether other departments have a place to put patients,” said Morrow.
The July 3 meeting didn’t go as well as Holly Sue Dobson, RN and Maine State Nurses’ Association Local 7631 president, had hoped.
“We met with the mediator and TAMC officials on July 3. We came to an impasse. We’re closer than we were before but still some distance from where we hoped to be,” said Dobson.
The nurses’ contract ran out that day, leaving nurses without one for the time being.
“We’re working without a contract. We’re expecting to meet with the mediator and hospital officials sometime later this month,” she said.
Dobson said the nurses are “disappointed” with the response they’ve received from TAMC officials.
“From our perspective, we’re disappointed with the response and their proposal. It’s not enough to retain nurses. We’re concerned for patients and about the care they’ll receive as a result.”
Dobson did not detail what the nurses were requesting, but did indicate in prior interview that nurses wanted to establish a professional practice committee run by bedside nurses to have “true” input on patient care; language that will prevent the hospital from implementing new technology that replaces nurses’ expertise; and wage increases that will keep nurses working at TAMC and enable the hospital to recruit nurses.
TAMC officials believe they’ll be able to reach an agreement.
“The Aroostook Medical Center expects to continue negotiations with the Maine State Nurses Association/California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, in cooperation with a federal mediator. We are disappointed that we have not yet been able to reach an agreement, even though our latest proposal includes a significant wage adjustment and responds to other concerns expressed by the union,” said Joy Barresi Saucier, vice president of public relations, development and strategic planning at TAMC.
Hospital officials did not give specifics on their proposal.
Until an agreement is reached, nurses remain in short supply at TAMC.
“We’re bleeding nurses,” said Morrow. “I’ve seen it time and again, I train graduate nurses, only to have them take that training to another hospital for better pay. We need to address that issue and find a way to keep those nurses at TAMC.”