July 28, 2013

Boothbay region 'full of fear' as hospital closing looms

MaineHealth officials call it the best path forward, but a community with many older residents worries about having no ER nearby.

By Colin Woodard cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 4)

Today's poll: Hospital closing

Do you agree with Lincoln County Health Care's decision to close St. Andrews Hospital?

Yes

No

View Results

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On Oct. 1, St. Andrews in Boothbay Harbor will cease to be a hospital.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Additional Photos Below

A STEP BACKWARD?

Many on the Boothbay peninsula believe the changes are a step backward. Among them is physician Nancy Oliphant, who maintains the only independent practice on the peninsula and had full hospital privileges until its acute beds were taken away in 2010.

"Nobody ever said St. Andrews can do it all, but they can do just about as much as Miles can, and the community here grew up around it and depends on it," Oliphant says of the hospital, which is the only one in the state with both a helipad and a dock, which receives patients from the islands or Coast Guard rescue. "They can stabilize you and get you off to someone who can get you proper care, or keep you overnight when the roads are too ugly."

She also believes LCHC programmed the hospital for failure.

"By taking away the acute care beds, they doomed the surgery department, because if there were complications in surgery, surgeons want to have somewhere on site that is appropriate to park the patient," Oliphant says. "Then they cleaned out the operating room last April 'temporarily' and stripped it of its equipment, even though it had been renovated just a few years earlier."

Donovan says the surgery was closed because it was being used for only about seven "minor cases" a week, and the equipment was moved to Miles. The fair market value of the equipment was transferred between hospitals, he says, so "essentially, Miles purchased the used equipment from St. Andrews."

Boothbay Harbor resident George McEvoy played a key role in the operating room's renovation, as he serves on the board of a foundation named for his mother that gave $100,000 between 2001 and 2006. He also thinks LCHC didn't want the hospital to succeed, in part because he says it didn't reapply for additional funding after the original five-year award played out.

McEvoy recalls a recent visit to the St. Andrews ER in the middle of a nighttime blizzard. He experienced a complication while recovering from surgery performed at Pen Bay in Rockport. The Pen Bay doctor on call said he needed to go to an ER but that the roads were impassable.

"He said he lived 20 minutes from the hospital, but the weather was so bad it had taken him two and a half hours to get there," McEvoy recalls. "But he asked how far I was from St. Andrews and said there's nothing they can't do there that he could do." McEvoy's four-wheel drive got him there in a few minutes, and a crisis was averted.

McEvoy agrees St. Andrews' ER is limited, but "it's a lot better than sitting in an ambulance stuck in a snowdrift."

'BEST CARE IN THE STATE'

Opponents of the changes say LCHC and MaineHealth should have found a way to keep the ER open and properly staffed, and could have looked to the community to help bridge the financial gap.

"I really wish they would look at ways of making the hospital viable rather than ways of cutting their expenses," says Southport Selectman Stuart Smith, a software and business process consultant. "There are ways to make both those hospitals economically viable year in and year out."

St. Andrews actually turned a $182,000 profit last fiscal year and $874,000 in fiscal year 2011 but has an overall loss of about $2 million over the past 13 years.

Many here say they no longer trust the hospital networks and now want management of the hospital returned to the community, although it's not clear how that would be accomplished.

Patricia Seybold, president of the Boothbay Region Health & Wellness Foundation, a newly formed nonprofit, says her organization "will do everything in its power to retain 24-hour emergency services for the people on the Boothbay peninsula."

"We're not done yet, and we're going to keep fighting until they close the doors of the emergency room," she says, but declines to be more specific. "We're not in a position to divulge our legal strategy at this point."

But MaineHealth officials believe there are no further obstacles to going ahead with the changes. The result, they insist, will be better care for the region's residents, as resources are shifted to local primary care and outpatient services.

"We are changing the way care is being provided on the peninsula, and it's going to be the best care in the state of Maine when we're done," Caron says. "The problem is that we're taking away a service and we haven't had a chance to prove to them yet."

Colin Woodard can be contacted at 791-6317 or at:

cwoodard@pressherald.com

Twitter: @WoodardColin

 

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Hairdresser Jane Good of Southport Island talks about the proposed closure of St. Andrews Hospital in Boothbay Harbor with summer resident Walter Weil. Good's salon has become an epicenter of support for keeping the hospital alive in the community.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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James Donovan, CEO of Lincoln County Health Care, supports the emergency room’s closure at St. Andrews Hospital in Boothbay Harbor. “For many years now, the 24/7 St. Andrews emergency department hasn’t been busy enough to sustain itself,” Donovan says.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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George McEvoy of Boothbay Harbor, photographed in Portland last week, opposes the pending loss of St. Andrews Hospital, where he has had positive experiences with its medical care. McEvoy says Lincoln County Health Care didn’t want the Boothbay Harbor hospital to succeed.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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William Caron, CEO of MaineHealth: “We are changing the way care is being provided on the (Boothbay) peninsula, and it’s going to be the best care in the state of Maine when we’re done.”

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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After Oct. 1, the nonprofit Boothbay Region Ambulance Service will take emergency patients from the Boothbay peninsula to Miles Memorial Hospital in Damariscotta, a 30-minute drive from downtown Boothbay Harbor, above, and 40 minutes from the southern tip of Southport or Ocean Point in Boothbay.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Signs of community support for St. Andrews pepper the landscape in the Boothbay region. In largely symbolic referendums held in four towns – Boothbay Harbor, Boothbay, Edgecomb and Southport – this year, 86 percent of the region’s residents opposed the emergency room closure.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer



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Today's poll: Hospital closing

Do you agree with Lincoln County Health Care's decision to close St. Andrews Hospital?

Yes

No

View Results