PORTLAND – Kudos to the Press Herald for your stories May 7 calling attention to the free care provided by Maine hospitals (“State’s hospitals double free care over five years”).

Our state is fortunate to have many wonderful hospitals that provide our citizens with great care, regardless of a patient’s ability to pay. From York to Fort Kent, all have dedicated staff who work hard with a patient-first approach.

As members of the community, we take seriously our responsibility to provide care to all, including those experiencing financial challenges. I assure you that is something shared by all of our state’s hospitals.

In 2011, for example, Maine Medical Center provided $18.3 million in charity care, an increase of more than 50 percent since 2007. Our Free Care program covers 100 percent of a patient’s cost for those at 175 percent of the federal poverty level — that’s more generous than what the state requires (150 percent of the poverty level).

Add to that $16.5 million in bad debt, from those who didn’t pay for the care we provided, and $59.3 million in shortfalls from government-sponsored payors, who reimburse the hospital at a rate below our costs.

Combine our total of $94.1 million at cost with the efforts of other hospitals, and you begin to see how much is asked of our state’s health care network.

While these expenses hit our bottom line hard, caring for those in need is absolutely the right thing to do, and we will continue to do so.

Your articles quoted Terry, a longtime patient of our adult medicine clinic, who had repetitive motion injuries in her wrist, thumb and shoulder. Terry, a violinist and teacher, receives her medications at low or no cost thanks to CarePartners, a program of our parent organization, MaineHealth.

CarePartners provides regular checkups, care when patients are sick, no-charge lab work and X-rays, as well as access to a primary care doctor. CarePartners members pay no more than $10 for an office visit. Physicians who join our Maine Medical Partners group agree to participate in CarePartners, as well as to accept Medicaid.

Many people who receive free care are among the 42,000 patients who visit our clinic annually. This includes those new to our country who have a limited budget and are learning to navigate the complex health care system.

Other community-based efforts include the following:

MMC provides staff and support for clinics in several Portland public schools, and the Sports Medicine division at our Family Medicine Center provides coverage for sports games at area schools.

Doctors from our Emergency Medicine Department volunteer at the Portland Free Clinic, providing primary care to uninsured, low-income adults.

MMC is deeply involved in disaster planning at the local and state levels. One of three state Regional Resource Centers for Emergency Preparedness is at MMC, and the hospital has a full-time director of emergency preparedness.

Our Let’s Go! program works with schools, day care facilities and others to promote healthy habits among our youngsters.

The aggregate cost of these and dozens of other community benefits last year exceeded $65 million.

Our responsibility to the community extends beyond the clinical setting. Our medical school partnership with Tufts University, entering its fourth year, is geared at providing an affordable, in-state medical education for our best and brightest, with the goal of keeping our future doctors in Maine, where we have a shortage of primary care physicians.

Finally, Maine Medical Center honors its fiscal responsibility to the city of Portland by paying more than $453,000 in property taxes on those sites that house our financial and information services functions, as well as other administrative offices. In fact, the hospital ranks among the top 15 taxpayers in the city.

As you can see, the free care hospitals provide is just the beginning of the positive impact on our communities. People interested in learning more about free care should visit our website, mmc.org, or contact a financial counselor in our Patient Accounts office at 662-2411 or [email protected]

Richard W. Petersen is president and CEO of Maine Medical Center.