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Machias Nurses &Technicians (MSNA) Hold Two-day Strike for Safe Patient Staffing

Andy O’Brien
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PHOTO: RNs and technicians with MSNA/NNU picket Down East Community Hospital on Tuesday.

Registered nurses and technicians at Down East Community Hospital (DECH) in Machias, held a two-day strike last week to protest the hospital administration’s refusal to address their concerns about recruitment, retention, and safe staffing. The Maine State Nurses Association represents registered nurses and technicians, including certified surgical technicians, medical lab technologists/technicians, and cardiopulmonary and imaging technologists at the rural critical access hospital.

Please check out this video of RNs & techs on the picket line on Facebook and Instagram and share it with your friends!

The RNs and techs gave advance notice to the hospital for their strike on April 19, following a nearly unanimous strike authorization pledge from nurses and technicians. DECH nurses and technicians have been negotiating since September 2023 for a new contract. The nurses’ and technicians’ contract expired on Oct. 18, 2023.

While progress has been made in some areas, key issues remain. The RNs and techs urge management to invest in nursing and technician staff and agree to a fair contract that addresses their concerns about recruitment and retention and prioritizes local nurses and technicians over temporary out-of-town workers known as “travelers.”

“For the nurses and technicians this is about making sure all of us who live in our community have the care available locally that we all need,” said Berta Alley, an RN in the infusion clinic and DECH chief nurse representative and negotiator. “We wish the hospital had the same priority.”

“Right now, instead of working with the nurses and trying to solve these issues to serve our community, the hospital is offering significantly more money to other staff to work during the strike,” said Alley. “These are resources the hospital could be investing in the community to recruit and retain our part- and full-time permanent staff.”

The hospital had a total gain in net assets of nearly $20 million between 2019 and 2022, the last year a report is available.

“This is about prioritizing our community and our patients,” said Joelle Jackson, a medical lab tech and DECH steward and negotiator. “Unfortunately, that’s just not what we see happening.”

Last Monday the hospital was so busy it was on diversion but continued to accept multiple patients via ambulance. Nurses were extremely dismayed that they did not have the appropriate staff necessary to provide optimal care to all patients in the ER.

“Where was management during this?” continued Jackson. “They were at a retreat with an out-of-state consultant entitled: ‘How to Be the Best Boss Your Employees Ever Had!’”

“Newsflash!” said Alley. “When your employees are heading out on strike and the hospital is being overwhelmed, what makes you the ‘Best Boss’ is to make sure there is enough staff to meet the need and you have to be able to recruit and retain permanent part- and full-time staff to be able to do that.”

The most recent Form 990s show that between 2020-2022 CFO Lynette Parr’s compensation increased by nearly $100,000 a year, or 48 percent, and CEO Steve Lail’s compensation increased over $100,000 annually, or by 37 percent, during that same time period.

MSNA member Anna Baskerville, who works in the surgical department at DECF, said that DECH should just remove the “Community” from its name because it is no longer properly serving the community.

Machias nurses and technicians held rallies in downtown Machias in late January in support of a fair contract.