EMMC Responds to Worker Rights Board of Eastern Maine

04/08/2011

(Bangor, ME) – An organization called the Worker Rights Board of Eastern Maine has addressed a letter to EMMC board members and corporators inviting them to a forum at the end of April “to discuss a fair and just resolution to the ongoing contract negotiations between EMMC and the National Nurses United.” Interestingly, no member of EMMC’s Board of Trustees has actually received the letter, and only a few EMHS corporators report receiving the letter (Note: EMMC does not have corporators). Few EMMC leadership members have received an invitation to attend, though a second letter has been sent out to EMMC nurses, inviting them to attend. EMMC leadership has prepared this statement in response to the invitation letter sent to an unknown group of citizens by the Worker Rights Board of Eastern Maine.

EMMC’s Board of Trustees is well informed about the contract negotiations with the union representing nurses at EMMC and has full faith in the medical center’s bargaining team. Contrary to what some suggest, many compromises have been discussed in bargaining sessions. In fact, the nurses have just received a new final contract offer from the medical center that includes revisions based upon compromises discussed at bargaining sessions in January and February. The union, of course, represents the interests of the nurses, as by law it must; the medical center team takes as its mission representing the needs of all employees, the hospital, and the community we serve. EMMC has stated repeatedly that it is proud of the patient care provided at EMMC, care that is provided by a team of physicians, nurses, nurse technicians, therapists, and others, working together. As this national union pursues its national agenda here in Bangor, the public can be reassured that the care EMMC nurses and other professionals give is high quality and that the care is here for them whenever they need it.

Pursuant to its charitable mission, in 2010 EMMC provided in excess of $77 million in uncompensated healthcare to those in our community who are unable to pay, including those enrolled in public healthcare programs, like MaineCare. These people have a voice. The employers of our communities are suffering under the burden of a struggling economy and the rising costs of providing health insurance to their employees. These people also have a voice. The other employees of EMMC who are contributing to their healthcare benefits, and working just as hard as the nurses, are looking for all employees to be treated similarly. They too have a voice. This community has many voices and board members and EMMC leadership must listen to them all. Interestingly, this Workers Rights Board apparently is focused on the nurses and not these other important constituencies.

The fact that EMMC has eliminated many positions, both nursing and others, is no secret. EMMC leadership is proud of the fact that, in most cases, people’s employment has been maintained in that process—a goal administration established at the outset. This process, as well as the reasons for the changes, has been shared with the public in a number of ways. EMMC administration routinely shares detailed information with all employees about the challenges we face as healthcare providers, and formally solicits ideas and feedback from all employees in Employee Updates held three times a year. Many teams of employees are at work on solutions to rising costs and to improve what are already high levels of patient safety and care quality. A team of EMMC nurses will travel to a national conference this month to share their success improving nursing care at the bedside through creative, nurse-driven changes. The nurses have many avenues for expressing their ideas and resolving nursing specific issues, including the Professional Practice Committee, which has a direct line to administration. A subgroup of this committee is currently working, for example, on changes that would relieve pressure on nurses from 7 pm to 11 pm during which patients get their medicines and need help getting ready for bed.

Please be assured that the medical center and the board both want the contract resolved and we have sent to union leaders and EMMC nurses in the bargaining unit a revised final offer that contains compromises on positions discussed in bargaining since early December. On the staffing issue, the National Nurses United’s solution appears to be simple: rigid, contractually binding nurse to patient ratios. The solution, however, must be more flexible. It must take into account not just what nurses demand, but what is appropriate to ensure high quality patient care, what is fair to all employees, what this community needs and can afford in the years to come, and what will position this region’s medical center to survive the challenges facing healthcare across the country. The nurses’ union has made its position clear. And yet, the union position does not acknowledge the costs of its demands, nor does it reflect any willingness to help find solutions to a very complex set of realities.  EMMC nurses work hard and do an excellent job taking care of the region’s sickest patients. All EMMC employees work hard toward this goal. Nursing does not “own” the issue of safety and quality alone, but as part of a much larger team that includes all employees and the Board of Trustees.  

EMMC leadership does not feel their attendance at the Worker Rights Board’s rally at the Bangor Public Library would be a productive way to advance these efforts. We are hopeful that the bargaining teams will reach an agreement in the near future.