We need a healthy hospital



Every community, every citizen wants great teachers and great nurses when they need them. Both professions are paramount to an educated, healthy, successful society.

Both professions require training and additional education beyond the norm for peers who do not pursue these respected roles. Each profession requires patience plus a sense of inner self to help other people as each career demands sacrifice and perseverance, as well as a willingness to adapt to technology and advances in the workplace.

As society has changed radically over the last 50 years, with explosive population expansion, changing demands on home life, and how people look after themselves and their families, both of these careers have experienced rocky periods of societal expectations — caring for our parents and our kids at the same time, or counseling wayward students who lack basic upbringing are among the many challenges.

Teachers and nurses have sometimes sought support from organized labor when they sensed the lack of proper remuneration or the level of respect in the workplace that their work demanded. While these organized efforts led to improved conditions, they also have led to changed conditions for the people they work with, for, and who help pay for the higher costs of each profession.

There’s always a higher cost — to everything — but now we see these costs magnified in a society overrun with debt, asking for more services for people who might not have needed help in the past, as well as evolving expectations for both education and health care. The folks in those careers should be forgiven for feeling like the meat in a vise.

Health care costs already make up over one-sixth of this country’s economy — and that number will climb. The strains on satisfying all of the various demands of our existing health care system will create added cost for many users and restrict access to others, all while providers struggle to operate with some degree of credibility, service and ultimately a bottom line that allows survival for both small clinics and large hospitals. Another vise.

Currently, nurses at Ellsworth’s Maine Coast Memorial Hospital are sending signals that the current staffing levels are not working for them, under their agreed contractual arrangements with the hospital. Coverage, patient care, plus standardized services are being affected, according to a petition that the nurses’ union has requested the hospital to review.

Hospital management, trying to keep MCMH viable (competitive, needed) in an atmosphere of constant debt and budget woes with two other small-town hospitals nearby, counter the nurses claims. With a festering wound now public, the two sides must resolve differences of opinion and fact to the betterment of not only the hospital staff, but for nurses and ultimately the buying public that needs and wants the services that MCMH provides. Anything less undermines both nurses and hospital management.

The giant bear in the room: Maine Medical Center in Portland and Eastern Maine Medical Center of Bangor, the controlling partner for MCMH, are both in the top four of largest nonprofit organizations in Maine. Each has hundreds of millions in assets and annual income, while each has richly paid senior management that oversees thousands of important jobs in their respective regions.

Smoke signals from nurses in Ellsworth aren’t occurring in a vacuum. We all have a card in the health care game. It’s in all of our best interest to see MCMH nurses’ concerns addressed now before the situation becomes something else entirely.