TAMC Nursing Updates

TAMC and the union that represents our nurses continue to work on a new contract. We have met with the union a number of times over the past few months, and we will continue to work in good faith to reach an agreement. 
Responses to Questions and Comments
Following the MSNA Strike on July 22-24
Question:  TAMC nurses work hard.  Why doesn’t TAMC just give them what they want?
Response:  Yes, we agree that TAMC nurses certainly do work hard, as do all employees in our organization. Nursing is a profession that requires commitment, hard work, and dedication. TAMC has been in ongoing negotiations with our nurses’ union to come to an agreement that is in the best interest of our patients, the nurses, and the organization as a whole. 
Question:  Why did TAMC pay outside nurses to come in? Why not use that money for TAMC nurses?
Response:  Once the union made the decision to present TAMC with notice of their intention to strike, TAMC had no other option but to pay an outside agency for replacement nurses. This was the only way to ensure that patient care continued without interruption.   TAMC’s preference would have been to have our own nurses continue to care for our patients.
Question: How can TAMC say that the temporary nurses provide the same level of care?  The nurses didn’t know the patients like TAMC nurses do and didn’t know where to find things or what TAMC policies are.
Response:  Nurses across the country, including TAMC nurses, regularly care for patients they do not know. This need not have an impact on the quality of care they provide.  Nurses are skilled, trained professionals.  By nature, they tend to be compassionate and caring people. That skill and compassion is not dependent upon a pre-established relationship with the patient. 
In preparation for the strike, our replacement nurses were oriented to TAMC policies, electronic medical record, and facilities prior to ever arriving at the hospital.  Our nurse leaders and TAMC nurses who chose to work during the strike also worked closely with these nurses and provided at-the-elbow support throughout the strike.
TAMC staffed with replacement nurses as if no TAMC nurses would cross the picket line; however, many of TAMC’s bargaining unit nurses did choose to come in and work.  Also, nurse leaders remained on site 24 hours/day during the strike and regularly visited the floors and checked in with our patients.   
Comment:  This didn’t really cost the hospital any money. Hospitals have insurance to pay for this type of situation.
Response:   TAMC does not have insurance to cover the cost of a strike.  To our knowledge, this type of insurance does not exist. 
Question:  Did TAMC “lock out” the nurses who wanted to come to work?
Response:  TAMC did not at any point prevent or “lock out” nurses from coming to work during this strike.  Typically, nurse staffing agencies require a commitment of a minimum number of days to provide strike coverage.  This generally leads to a decision to lock nurses out for additional days beyond the strike as the hospital is already obligated to pay for temporary coverage during that time.  Because TAMC chose not to lock out nurses who wanted to come to work, TAMC did have to cover the cost of both the replacement nurses and the nurses who came to work.
Question: What is the staffing level for nurses at TAMC?
Response:  TAMC does not following set staffing ratios.  TAMC instead staffs nursing units based upon a number of factors, including the amount of care each individual patient needs and the skills and experience of the entire care team. 
Question:  What is TAMC doing to try to recruit new nurses or to retain nurses?
Response: TAMC actively recruits nationally and regionally for all open positions using a number of strategies including advertising, sign-on bonuses, and relocation reimbursements.  A national nursing shortage does create challenges in filling these positions.  Locally, that shortage is even more challenging as we face the reality of an increasingly aging population in Aroostook County.  The number of older adults (who are the biggest users of healthcare) is growing, while the number of young adults entering the workforce is dwindling. 
TAMC also takes steps to try to encourage more people to enter the nursing profession.  One example is our Survivor Aroostook camp for youth entering high school. This camp opens the eyes of these students to the possibility of many healthcare professions, including nursing.  We also offer financial assistance with continuing education and both sign-on bonuses for new nurses and referral bonuses for those who refer new nurses.
We appreciate the value of experienced nurses and we work to keep TAMC nurses here.  Retention numbers show we are, in great part, succeeding.  While nurses may move between departments or into leadership or other positions, most choose to stay within TAMC.  TAMC has for the past 3 years surpassed national nurse retention rates.
Question:  Why does TAMC use traveler nurses?  Couldn’t that money be used to pay TAMC nurses more?
Response: It is certainly not our preference to hire traveler nurses. We do this as a necessary step to ensure appropriate staffing.  When an open nursing position is not filled, it may become necessary to hire a traveler to temporarily fill that opening.  Sometimes this is a short-term solution, other times it is for longer periods of time.  TAMC, like hospitals across the country, has openings for nurses with specialty training in areas such as critical care, operating room, and emergency services.  The need for travel nurses is commonplace throughout the country – regardless of the size, location or services within the hospital, or of the pay and benefits the hospital provides.
Question:  Why was there so much security at the hospital?
Response:  While TAMC did not anticipate any issues during the strike, out of an overabundance of caution, based upon security concerns seen during strike situations elsewhere across the country, we felt it important to take all steps necessary to ensure the safety of our patients, visitors and staff, including our nurses on the picket line. 
Question:  I have heard that TAMC has many “unfilled nursing shifts”. What does this mean?
Response:  Given that TAMC has several open nursing positions, nursing departments at times have “unfilled shifts” or openings on the staff schedule when it is posted.  This does not mean that there will not be enough nurses to provide safe care when the shift occurs as there are many ways that these shifts become filled.  Often nurses from that department volunteer to pick up the unfilled shifts.  If still unfilled, a nurse from another department who is not needed in that department is floated in order to fill the open shift.  In addition, nursing management staff may work extra to cover.  TAMC also makes use of travelers to assist with these openings.  At times, if no other option is available, TAMC may limit patient admissions to that department to ensure safe staffing within the department.
Question:  When will negotiations resume?
Response:  There are no dates currently set for additional bargaining sessions.  That said, TAMC remains committed to bargaining in good faith with the union.  
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