The state of the local hospitals is strong, leaders of the organizations said Wednesday, Feb. 20, during the annual meeting of the Coastal Healthcare Alliance community advisory council.

"We're beginning to hit on all cylinders," said Dr. Mark Fourre, president of Coastal Healthcare, which oversees Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport, Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast, the Knox Center in Rockland, Quarry Hill in Camden and nearly all local physician practices.

The president of the hospitals acknowledged that leaders must deal with ongoing change in the health care field that is happening at an increasing pace.

"Change is part of our everyday world," Fourre said.

Coastal Healthcare Alliance officials provided a financial update that showed that Waldo County continues to have a strong margin of revenues over expenses, while Pen Bay has finally made it to a breakeven point after several years of significant losses.

One of the people in the audience at the advisory council annual gathering asked whether the financial improvements were the result of cuts that would place a burden on the remaining staff.

The leaders pointed out, however, that the turnaround was due not just to reductions in expenses, but to increased revenues. The recruitment of physicians has allowed the organization to retain patients who otherwise might seek treatment elsewhere, they said.

Eight new primary care physicians have been recruited over the past year, and the goal over the next year is to add 15 new patients a day combined for those physicians.

Linda Drinkwater, chief financial officer for Coastal Healthcare, pointed out that Waldo County's strong financial condition has allowed the organization to freeze rates for patients over the past three years, reducing what had been higher-than-average rates.

Dr. Mark Eggena, chief medical officer for Pen Bay, detailed steps the hospitals and doctors have taken to deal with the opioid epidemic.

Physicians have decreased their prescription of opioids, which had been thought originally to help patients, but in the end did just the opposite, Eggena said.

And the number of physicians offering medication-assisted treatment for people with opioid addictions — such as through the use of suboxone — has increased from three in 2017 to 10 currently, he said. There is a capacity to treat 350 patients, he said.

The organization also uses its emergency department and social workers to provide care.

"We've made tremendous progress in the last year, although there is a lot of work to be done," Eggena said.

In attendance at the meeting was former longtime Waldo County General President Mark Biscone, who retired in December 2016. He asked when LincolnHealth would be coming into Coastal Healthcare Alliance's fold.

LincolnHealth oversees the Miles Hospital in Damariscotta.

Fourre said there are very active discussions occurring, but that he did not have a lot more to share on that issue.

The leaders provided statistics for the services provided during the past year at Pen Bay and Waldo County.

There were 3,399 inpatient admissions at Pen Bay and 1,366 at Waldo County; 181,157 outpatient hospital visits at Pen Bay and 123,466 at Waldo County; 146,201 visits to physician offices for Pen Bay and 67,349 for Waldo County; 20,203 emergency department visits at Pen Bay and 14,615 for Waldo County; and 283 births at Pen Bay and 134 at Waldo County.