The local board that oversees Pen Bay Medical Center, Waldo County General Hospital, the Knox Center, Quarry Hill and nearly all physician practices is scheduled to vote Dec. 5 on merging with Portland-based MaineHealth.

Discussions on the unification of the boards of health care facilities across much of Maine have been ongoing for more than a year.

Coastal Healthcare Alliance Board President Lee Woodward Jr. of Belfast said Tuesday, Nov. 28, he could not predict the outcome of the vote.

Board Vice President Carole Brand of Rockland said Tuesday she would not say how she would vote, but commented on the proposal.

"There are a lot of positives about unification. This will benefit patient services locally and across the state," Brand said. She said this can be done while preserving local control.

Board Secretary Stephen Hanscom of Rockport said Tuesday he was still gathering information on the unification issue and would review that before making a decision.

Hanscom said there is a lot to be said for the unification.

Under the unification proposal, Pen Bay and Waldo County would each have one member on a 26-member MaineHealth Board for the first five years. After the five-year mark, the MaineHealth Board would decide whether to reduce its size, perhaps to 15 to 20 members.

MaineHealth Systems Director for Marketing and Communication John Porter said a patient service could not be eliminated at a hospital within the MaineHealth system during the first five years of unification without approval of the local board. After that point, the elimination of a service would require support from two thirds of the combined system board.

Thus far, the boards of Maine Behavioral Healthcare and Memorial Hospital in North Conway, N.H., have voted to adopt unification. Voting across the system is expected to be concluded during the first week of December, Porter said.

Physicians at Pen Bay voiced concern last year about the unification proposal, but at a public forum in August, Brand said they were coming around to recognizing its benefits.

Brand said in August, however, that doctors at Waldo County General continued to struggle with the unification proposal. Both groups of physicians were concerned about loss of local control.

Waldo County became an affiliate member of MaineHealth in 2009 and Pen Bay became an affiliate member at the end of 2010. Pen Bay and Waldo County's boards of directors merged into a single board, named Coastal Healthcare Alliance, in 2015 which is an affiliate of MaineHealth.

MaineHealth oversees hospitals and other health care facilities in the state, with its flagship being Maine Medical Center in Portland. In addition to Pen Bay and Waldo County, the hospitals include Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington, Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway, Miles Campus and Hospital in Damariscotta, St. Andrews in Boothbay Harbor, Southern Maine Healthcare in Biddeford and Sanford, and Memorial Hospital in North Conway, N.H. Maine Behavioral Health is also a member of MaineHealth, as is the clinical laboratory NorDx in Scarborough.