Northern Light Health Maine Coast Hospital in Ellsworth. Credit: Gabor Degre | BDN

Registered nurses and hospital technicians say they want higher nurse staffing levels and round-the-clock security where they work as part of a new contract at Northern Light Health Maine Coast Hospital in Ellsworth.

Jennifer Nappi, a representative for Maine State Nurses Association, said Friday that nurses want a third nurse on duty in the emergency department during the overnight shift. She added that charge nurses should not have patient assignments, which can hamper their ability to assist and supervise other nurses. The nurses’ union represents the nurses and technicians at the Ellsworth hospital.

There have been “multiple” incidents at the hospital in the past two years in which nurses have been assaulted by patients — many of whom are dealing with opioid withdrawal, Nappi said. She said there has been no security presence at the hospital to assist nurses when confrontations arise and that a plan by hospital administrators for a limited daily security presence is insufficient.

“We want 24-hour security at the hospital,” Nappi said, adding that some nurses at the hospital have been injured badly enough that they have missed work, including one who quit her job shortly after returning to work because of the lack of security for dealing with combative patients.

The lack of round-the-clock security at the hospital “is not OK,” Nappi said.

In a statement Friday, union members at the hospital said they are concerned for patient safety at the hospital and they want a “fair” contract. They said they are planning to hold a vigil at 5 p.m., Tuesday in S.K. Whiting Park on the corner of Maine and Oak streets in Ellsworth to draw attention to their position.

Registered nurses at the hospital have been in contract negotiations with hospital administrators since May of this year, according to the union. The hospital’s technicians have been trying to negotiate their first contract with the hospital for nearly two years, since November 2017.

Meanwhile, the hospital has been in the red in recent years, according to financial data from the Maine Health Data Organization. In the hospital’s fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2018, it raised $182.4 million in revenue but had $186.9 million in expenses, according to the hospital’s IRS tax filings.

In a statement, a hospital official said Friday that the hospital continues to “negotiate in good faith” with the union for a nursing employment contract and that the hospital is committed to patient and employee safety.

“As Maine Coast frequently evaluates hospital safety, it has recently increased security on campus to ensure that the hospital is a safe place to give and receive care,” hospital spokesman Kelley Columber said. “Representatives from Maine Coast Hospital will meet with the MSNA again next month and looks forward to a successful resolution soon.”

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....