Dec. 5 vote set for merger of local hospital board with MaineHealth

By Stephen Betts | Nov 29, 2017

Rockport — 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.

Comments (7)
Posted by: judith wenzel andersen | Dec 05, 2017 10:18

Having given a total of 51 years of service to the community at Pen Bay, we believe we have a valid perspective on the vote which will take place today. We understand the need to merge health care services in this era of escalating medical costs but believe this area needs a strong presence on the combined board and must not sign our voice away with the plan as presented.

Pen Bay is in a strategic location, 60 miles from Bangor and 79 miles from Portland.  During the last 40 plus years Pen Bay has offered excellent care in many specialities and we foresee these stripped away in the future without local influence to mold services offered. A triage hospital does not serve our needs.

Olaf Andersen, M.D, FACS   Judith Andersen, M.D. a founding member AAFP

Posted by: Dale Hayward | Dec 04, 2017 00:36

This article, further tells me, that just 26 people will have complete control over the entire network of hospitals and I would be willing to bet they will favor the bigger hospitals in their area with the most attention, money, and will soon just slip the other members into the "we will get to you when we can" attitude. There may be some benefits that come with purchasing power and some services but when a hospital charges $7 or whatever it is is extravagant for an aspirin tablet making this seem as just a mega control freak party.

Posted by: John E Marshall | Nov 30, 2017 16:48

One of the strengths of WCGH is that it as maintained its focus as a primary care hospital with a few additional secondary services. Many Waldo County residents have always gone to Bangor or Portland for highly specialized care such as cancer treatment or cardiovascular surgery. We are moving into an era of consolidated medical systems with seamless transfer of patient records through EPIC or other medical record systems which provide electronic access to all treatment facilities within the system. About 50 plus percent of all physicians  in the US are paid on salary by healthcare systems. Good medical standards of practice are set by national medical specialty boards so it is not accurate to believe that physicians would lose control of the practices at WCGH. That train already left the station folks. A system also provides economies of scale in the purchase of supplies. Do not let this  opportunity pass to keep WCGH in the mainstream of healthcare.

Posted by: Susan Schwan | Nov 30, 2017 06:07

While I understand that administrators and board members have this decision on their plates, doctors and staff SHOULD have a strong voice on this topic. And, very importantly, so should the community. I realize that this is not a democratic decision, but in a real way, these hospitals are our hospitals. I don’t know of any way the community can offer viable leverage to retain the independence  of our local health care on as many levels as possible, but there must be something. Press focus may help. I agree with the issues raised by the previous commentators McKeever, Andersen and Hayward. Having seen these consolidations in another state, my experience says that costs tend to skyrocket as care quality goes down. That care care quality has been a hallmark of WCGH.

Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Nov 29, 2017 14:50

Local control will be lost forever. The first merger was when The Camden Community Hospital joined with Rockland Community Hospital. Then more mergers, bigger debts and now this. Local control and local doctors were the heart of the communities. Now the patient will be shifted to the Hospital which has the unique expertise the patient will need. Sick patients need to be close to home with doctors they trust and know. Who said bigger was better?

Posted by: judith wenzel andersen |

It is unsettling to realize that Maine Med is planning for nineteen new operating rooms as well as more patient rooms, obviously expecting increased funneling of patients to them. This will further weaken smaller hospitals who incidentally rely on surgery and procedures to survive financially. More importantly, as more patients are sent south, local families will have their lives disrupted and suffer financially by treks down to Portland  at a very stressful time. With our increasingly aging population this is a significant blow.

We must maintain significant local control to protect the interests and well being of  our local communities. We lose this by joining the Maine Health Board with Pen Bay having one vote in 26 and possibly none after five years. We hope that our Healthcare Alliance Board will carefully consider how this will affect all Mid-Coast families in the future and vote against the merger as presented.


Posted by: Dale Hayward |

What has been the track record of MaineHealth so far with the hospitals already affiliated? Looks like maybe in the not to distant the local control could dwindle. I thought it was already an affiliate under Coastal Healthcare Alliance. Can someone actually list the advantages vs. disadvantages in print form in an article please?

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