The headline of the front page article in the Aug. 31 edition of The Ellsworth American titled “Rewritten contracts cause unrest at MCMH” accurately describes the situation. I have worked at Maine Coast Memorial Hospital under the swing bed program and rehabilitation departments for the past 13½ years. Losing many of our experienced, trusted doctors is causing unrest, uncertainty and concern among the staff, patients and the community.
Back in October 2015, in another article in The American titled “Maine Coast is now part of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems,” the MCMH Board chairman at the time, Adin Tooker, was quoted: “Our primary mission is to ensure that this resource is here and better going forward, and the affiliation with EMHS going forward will do that.” The article stated that the EMHS Board chairwoman, Evelyn Silver, assured the audience members that the Maine Coast Board of Directors “will have a very strong role to play” going forward. She is also quoted as saying: “Local input is critical in how decisions are made.”
I have to wonder why our local hospital board is not vehemently protesting the actions taken by parent organization EMHS causing MCMH to change its contracts with doctors. We were told back in 2015 that our local board would still “have a very strong role to play.” Current MCMH Board Chairwoman Debbie Ehrlenbach’s statement in the Aug. 31 article is as follows: “We are pleased with the plans that Maine Coast’s senior leadership has developed, working in partnership with EMHS, to ensure we will have sufficient physician coverage to continue to deliver high-quality care for residents of Ellsworth and other Downeast communities.” This sounds like complete allegiance to EMHS. What happened to loyalty to our local hospital, staff and the patients and communities that have benefited by the consistent, dedicated, experienced care given by trusted local doctors?
After I wrote the above paragraphs in a letter to The American, yet another article about MCMH was published in the Sept. 7 edition with the front page headline: “MCMH nurses cite staffing in petition.” I have to applaud the nurses for going public with their valid concerns of inadequate, unsafe staffing levels. The nurses followed the proper internal procedures for voicing their concerns in the grievance process, but little changed. Hospital management who work out of their offices and have meeting after meeting and who are not working where patients are being cared for, but who then make decisions about staffing levels should be listening to those who are actually caring for patients. Nurses at MCMH have valid reasons to be concerned about patient safety, and management needs to make the necessary changes.
The Sept. 14 editorial “We need a healthy hospital” pointed out that unions have helped improve salaries of both unionized nurses and teachers and that this brings about increased tensions with management because the unions want better pay, working conditions, etc. for their members. The implication is that nurses getting a fair wage is a driver of increased health care costs, but your editorial is very deficient in analyzing the reasons why health care is so expensive. This topic would be better accomplished in an article of facts, not in an editorial opinion. Nurses and teachers have traditionally been mostly women and this continues to be true nationwide. Women continue to earn less than men (gender pay gap does exist). Maine nurses’ and teachers’ average salaries are lower than the national average. But salaries are not the issue in the MCMH nurses’ current petition. The MCMH nurses are using their strength in numbers in order to voice their valid concerns about patient safety that is at risk because of inadequate staffing levels.
Nurses and other staff leave and are not replaced. Frustrated doctors leave and more expensive locums fill in temporarily until other expensive temporary locums arrive, driving costs up further. And management keeps going to their meetings or are in their offices in their administrative building, far from the doctors and nurses and other staff who are working on the Med/Surg floor, ICU, operating rooms, Emergency Department, maternity, etc.
No wonder there is unrest and uncertainty at our hospital.
Karen Jo Young