Discussion is continuing about a plan that would have MaineHealth hospitals and medical organizations governed by one statewide board of trustees, including Southern Maine Healthcare in Biddeford and Sanford. ED PIERCE/Journal Tribune

Discussion is continuing about a plan that would have MaineHealth hospitals and medical organizations governed by one statewide board of trustees, including Southern Maine Healthcare in Biddeford and Sanford. ED PIERCE/Journal Tribune

BIDDEFORD — Additional public forums are continuing to give Maine and New Hampshire residents the chance to voice their opinion about a plan that would have MaineHealth hospitals and medical organizations governed by one statewide board of trustees, including Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford and Sanford.

If adopted, the unification initiative would create a single system-wide MaineHealth Board of Trustees for 12 different health care organizations while leaving in place a system of local boards that would oversee local hospital services and other care delivered to local communities.

Proponents say increasing financial pressures as a result of uncertainty in health care delivery is at the heart of the measure, but critics of the proposal say it will lead to loss of local control for community health care.

On its website, MaineHealth says although financial pressures are system-wide, local health care systems are also being severely impacted by other forces.

MaineHealth says fewer procedures are taking place at its community hospitals. It says that in 2015, some 20 Maine hospitals – including four MaineHealth members – performed fewer than two inpatient surgeries per day.

The company attributes that issue to many relatively simple procedures now being done in outpatient clinics and more complex procedures that are being done at larger specialized medical centers able to afford expensive new technologies employed by highly specialized providers.

It says that surgeries and other complex procedures have provided much of the revenue that community hospitals need to stay open, but now that money is going away.

But, it says that large tertiary care hospitals like Maine Medical Center in Portland are seeing growth and cites statistics from 2015, when more than 70 percent of all inpatient surgeries in Maine were taking place at just five hospitals.

This has left local community hospitals unable to pass more costs on to private insurers and others either now losing money, or expected to suffer financial losses in the near future.

Smaller MaineHealth hospitals with 25 or fewer beds designated as “Critical Access” by the federal government and eligible to get more generous government payments, are seeing their finances erode.

The company says that in the last year, four of its seven local healthcare networks lost money and a fifth of those fell well short of budget.  

The unification proposal would establish one governing entity with a single budget aimed at making sure each community gets the services it needs and attempts to do it in a way that preserves a measure of local control and input into the care provided locally, MaineHealth says.

The next community forum will be conducted in Rockland on Sept. 18, with the final forum of the year to be held in North Conway, New Hampshire, in October..

Community forums in Biddeford and Sanford were held in July with a panel consisting of SMHC President and CEO Edward McGeachey; SMHC Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Michael Albaum; SMHC Board Chairman Ted Hissong and MaineHealth President William Caron.

In a press release issued by SMHC, the hospital outlined the core reasons for unification.

“The proposal under discussion would create a single, system-wide board of trustees for MaineHealth,” SMHC officials said in the press release.”“It would also leave in place local boards that would retain significant responsibility for the hospital services and other care delivered locally.”

MaineHealth currently administers numerous health care organizations and hospitals in the state including Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford and Sanford; Maine Medical Center in Portland; Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington; Miles Campus and Hospital in Damariscotta; Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway, and St. Andrews Hospital in Boothbay Harbor, among others.

The proposal creates a statewide board of 25 members who would serve for five-years and then the system would be re-evaluated.

Southern Maine Health Care has been a part of MaineHealth since 2009.

A decision about unification is expected to be made by member health care organizations and hospitals early in 2018.

— Executive Editor Ed Pierce can be reached at 282-1535 ext. 326 or by email at [email protected]


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