Down East Community Hospital in Machias Photo taken 2018 Bill Trotter|BDN Credit: Bill Trotter

The nurses and some support staff at another Washington County hospital are clashing with management over the terms of a new contract they are negotiating.

A union representing about 60 nurses and hospital technicians at Down East Community Hospital in Machias, which has been negotiating a new contract since October, held a rally Thursday evening to highlight what it called “hospital mismanagement that makes it difficult to recruit and retain quality staff.”

The impasse at the Machias hospitals means nurses at both of Washington County’s hospitals are locked in battles with management over the terms of new contracts. The contracts at both hospitals expired in October, and nurses at both hospitals are concerned about the ability to recruit new colleagues.

The demonstration in Machias came a month after the nurses and medical laboratory scientists at Calais Regional Hospital picketed for two hours as part of their own lengthy contract negotiation. Nurses at both hospitals are represented by the Maine State Nurses Association.

[Nurses at Calais picket over contract impasse]

Julie Hixson, a spokeswoman for Down East Community Hospital, said that the hospital has made a “fair offer” in the contract negotiations and that “the union chose to reject it.”

“Down East Community Hospital is committed to safe and adequate staffing,” Hixson said, adding that all of its nursing shifts “are fully covered.”

But a member of the union, registered nurse Liz Faraci, said the hospital needs to increase staffing to lift the burden on current nurses, particularly because the 25-bed hospital has seen an influx of patients as Calais Regional Hospital has scaled back its services in recent years, including closing its obstetrics department and ending outpatient cancer care.

While that additional traffic has been helpful overall to the Machias hospital, Faraci said administrators should invest more of the revenue back into the workers.

“It’s really about safe staffing and improved staffing,” Faraci said of their demands in the contract negotiation. “We are seeing a tremendously increased workload.”

Besides adding more nursing shifts, the union is also demanding a more competitive wage scale that would include pay increases for many workers, including staff who have recently left school with student loan debt and those with more experience who have worked at the hospital for a long time.

The nurses have been working under the terms of their previous contract during negotiations, according to Jennifer Nappi, a labor representative at the Maine State Nurses Association.

Nappi criticized the hospital’s decision to donate the closed Sunrise Care Facility nursing home in Jonesport to the Arnold Memorial Medical Building Society, along with $20,000 for renovations. She argued that the hospital should be more focused on supporting its staff than giving away resources for philanthropy.

After posting negative operating margins from 2009 to 2015, the Machias facility finished the past three years in the black, according to the Maine Health Data organization and the hospital’s most recent annual report.

The Machias hospital now employees 300 full-time staff and 30 part-time or per-diem workers, according to Hixson.