SCARBOROUGH — My love for hospice care runs deep. For over a decade, I have worked as a licensed clinical social worker on a hospice team. What started out as a job soon turned into a passion and ultimately a vocation.

Hospice care is more than just a set of medical interventions for people who are facing serious, life-limiting illness. It is a philosophy of holistic care dedicated to attending to the physical, spiritual and emotional comfort of patients and their family and friends.

To ensure that our patients get the individualized care they need, they must have a strong voice. The health care workers at Hospice of Southern Maine are the ones who work to amplify and protect the voice of patients and families in our care. We know that when our patients are heard, valued and understood, the experience of dying becomes less frightening, less chaotic and more manageable. We also know that patients and families benefit from having consistent, dependable and skilled care providers.

After years of listening to the unique needs of our patients and families, the direct-care staff at Hospice of Southern Maine became concerned that their voices were being drowned out in a health care system that is in crisis. To that end, we decided to join together to preserve, protect and empower the heart of hospice care: the patient.

We agreed that union representation through the Maine State Nurses Association would be a way that we could guarantee a seat at the table where administration and board members gather to assess, plan, implement and review hospice care delivery. We felt strongly that the voices of the patients needed to be heard at every stage of the health care delivery process and that the best people to represent those voices would be the people who had daily, direct contact with our patients.

Last May, we were so proud of the stand we took for our patients when we voted for and won our union election. We elected a bargaining team who worked diligently over the summer to put together contract proposals with important protections for our patients. After gathering input from health care workers, we crafted terms that we felt reflected the ways that we could recruit and retain skilled staff – a critical component for providing quality end-of-life care.

Unfortunately, this step we took to collectively advocate for our patients has not yet been fully realized, as we have not been able to settle a fair contract with management. We are coming to the table, and we urge management to come to the table in good faith, without delay. Our patients deserve so much better than an unnecessarily drawn-out contract bargaining process.

In my 23 years as a social worker, I have often coached people to ask for help when facing challenges, and to not face their struggles alone. Now it is time to take my own advice. On behalf of the health care workers at Hospice of Southern Maine, I am asking the community to support us in our efforts to settle a fair contract with management as soon as possible. This contract is essential to protect and preserve the voices of direct-care staff and the patients and families for whom we provide care.

Hospice of Southern Maine is a jewel in the health care community. Like anything precious and of great value, it must be cared for and protected. When you love something, you fight for it. You cherish it. You stand up for it. The health care workers at Hospice of Southern Maine stand united and unwavering in our collective desire for excellent patient care, supported by a fair union contract.

Come hear our stories and find out how you can support us at a candlelight vigil Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Monument Square in Portland. We are a community hospice. It is an honor and a privilege to serve this community. Please join us if you also feel that hospice care is a valued service that is worth standing together to protect.