The union representing nurses at Maine Medical Center has planned a demonstration Thursday to protest what nurses say are unsafe working conditions, including workplace violence, in the hospital’s emergency department.

Hospital management says it is addressing the workplace safety concerns.

Todd Ricker, lead labor negotiator for the Maine State Nurses Association, an arm of National Nurses United union, said details of the abuse nurses have endured will be revealed during the protest outside the hospital at noon.

“Nurses in the emergency department are experiencing extreme workplace violence,” Ricker said in a phone interview. “They have been kicked, hit, spit upon and concussed at the hands of patients they are there to care for.” He said some of the violence is by psychiatric patients housed at the hospital.

Ricker said more details will be available Thursday, but hospital management has refused “commonsense” recommendations by the union to keep nurses safe. The nurses’ union formed last year, and management are negotiating the union’s first contract. The union also protested working conditions, including staffing issues, in January, although that protest did not highlight workplace violence.

“We have asked for improving staffing for patients known to be violent, with extra nurses and more security guards,” Ricker said. “We have a petition signed by 90 nurses with these recommendations. (On Feb. 15) we brought management the recommendations, and on Friday they said no.”


But Clay Holtzman, Maine Med spokesman, said a team of emergency department staff, including nurses, met Friday to address the concerns.

“The staffing model used by (Maine Med’s) Emergency Department Acute Psychiatric Unit (APU) for patients who have a history of violence or are assessed to be potentially violent is a 2 to 1 care team member to patient ratio for all patient interactions. Additionally, the emergency department has two security guards staffing the APU who are to be immediately available or present for interactions. When there is a situation that requires additional staffing, care team members can be shifted to support that specific need,” Holtzman said in a statement.

Maine Med has five security officers staffing its emergency department around the clock, he said, adding that the hospital has a standing workplace violence prevention committee and aims to “prevent workplace violence before it occurs.”

Katie Fullam Harris, MaineHealth’s chief government affairs officer, said in a statement that part of the issue is Maine’s lack of capacity for patients needing psychiatric care, a longstanding problem in Maine. At times, psychiatric patients spend too much time in emergency departments because there is nowhere else in the system to care for them.

“No one should languish in an ER for days, let alone weeks and months,” Harris said. “The state of Maine needs a thoughtful plan to fund a continuum of care for patients with behavioral health needs, including investment in residential treatment facilities, treatment for substance abuse disorder, crisis intervention services and long-term care. The current behavioral health system is in crisis, and it’s having an enormous impact on both our patients and our care team members.”

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