A proposed merger of the two boards of directors at Pen Bay Healthcare and Waldo County Healthcare will likely be approved by the state, according to a preliminary analysis issued Sept. 8 by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The final decision is to be made by the commissioner of the state agency before the end of the year.

Currently, Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport and Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast are part of the member organization of the MaineHealth system, which includes other larger hospitals across the state, like Maine Medical Center in Portland. Pen Bay joined MaineHealth in 2011 and Waldo in 2009.

Since that time the two hospitals, which are located 25 miles apart, each have been operating with their own board of directors. If a merger is approved, a single new board of directors would be created at the beginning of 2016 to oversee both hospitals, according to the certificate of need analysis report issued by DHHS.

MaineHealth will continue to elect the board of directors of Pen Bay Healthcare, just as it has elected the board of trustees of Waldo County Healthcare and Pen Bay Healthcare since 2009 and 2011, respectively. Waldo County General Hospital and Pen Bay Medical Center will continue to exist and operate as they do, as separately licensed hospitals and distinct subsidiaries of a subsidiary of MaineHealth, the analysis says.

Partnerships and collaborations, such as the one with Waldo County Healthcare, are necessary in order to keep the small hospitals open, because the partner organization leverages its scale for the benefit of the members, which allows, for example, discounts on major capital purchases and also allows the two hospitals to share services, Erik Frederick, Pen Bay Healthcare's chief operating officer, said in an interview earlier this year.

"Changes in health care financing, regulation, and economies of scale have driven them to act more regionally, at least on an ad hoc basis. Volumes necessary to support high quality specialties and subspecialties are more achievable over a larger patient base. Similarly, the economics of hiring physicians/specialists is more tenable over a larger patient base," the analysis states.

The two hospitals have already begun sharing some services and positions in physician services, clinical services, administrative services, as well as support services.

"This merger of holding companies will entail no changes or addition of services therefore there will be no negative impact on the quality of care delivered by existing service providers," according to the analysis.

Courier Publications Editor Kim Lincoln can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at klincoln@villagesoup.com.