Central Maine Healthcare board backs embattled CEO

Central Maine Healthcare’s board of directors is backing CEO Jeff Brickman even though he received no confidence votes from medical staff at all three of its hospitals. However, the board also said it is making changes to increase physician input. The board voted Tuesday night to affirm its support for Brickman and his plans for the hospital system, Chairwoman Deborah Dunlap Avasthi said in a memo she sent to employees on Wednesday. The memo said board members were acting “in the best long-term interests of CMH, including ensuring that it remains financially viable,” Avasthi wrote. She said the board also agreed to add more doctors to the board and to allow seats for the chiefs of staff of Bridgton Hospital, Rumford Hospital and Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. It also agreed to create a joint council composed of senior leadership, board members and hospital medical staff in an effort to improve communication among those groups. Read the story.

Mercy seeks input in future of State Street building before it’s sold

Before Mercy Hospital leaves the downtown Portland site it has occupied for 75 years, it wants a say in what replaces it. The hospital, which intends to move in 2021 to a new campus on the Fore River Parkway, has issued a “request for information” to potential developers of its 144 State St. location, an unusual method for seeking potential buyers. Administrators want not only the best price for the facility and the 3.5 acres it occupies, but also details on what a developer would do with the site, and how it would work with the hospital, city officials and neighborhood groups to reuse the property, said Charlie Therrien, president of Mercy. Therrien said Mercy is on track with its plans to consolidate operations at the Fore River site, where it already has a 151,000-square-foot building. Plans call for a second building, with about 108,000 square feet of space, to be added by 2021 and for the full hospital to relocate at that point. Read the story.

Maine gets waiver for reinsurance program

The federal government has approved a request by the Maine Bureau of Insurance to relaunch its $93 million reinsurance program, which will help reduce premiums for individual insurance on the Affordable Care Act marketplace. On Monday, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services granted a waiver that permits the state to diverge from the normal rules set up by the ACA for insurance. The CMS waiver will be effective from 2019 through 2023. Maine previously had operated a reinsurance program, but it was shelved in 2013 after the ACA went into effect. The Maine reinsurance program redistributes insurance money by charging a fee of $4 per person per month on individual and small- and large-group plans, including employer-based insurance not on the ACA marketplace, and then funneling the revenue to individual plans. Read the story.


CMP upgrading smart-meter network in wake of massive October storm

Central Maine Power Co. says it is making its smart-meter network less vulnerable to power outages, a weak link identified during last October’s wind and rainstorm that blacked out a record number of customers. On Wednesday, the company said that key devices in the network are now wired for backup generators, and that the utility has increased the number of mobile generators available for use during extended outages. The performance of the smart meters was one of the key factors being scrutinized by investigations into CMP’s response to the storm. But the announcement drew quick criticism from Maine’s consumer utility watchdog, who called it spin. Doug Herling, CMP’s president and chief executive, said the smart-meter system has served customers well, but as technology changes, improvements will continue to be made. His assessment of the smart-meter network’s performance was criticized by the Maine Public Advocate. Read the story.

Despite subsidy, two biomass plants offline for months

Two troubled Maine power plants that make electricity from wood have produced no power in the past four months, a financial hit to their owner, Stored Solar LLC, and an unwelcome development for the forest products industry. A quarterly performance report filed this week with the Maine Public Utilities Commission shows that the plants in West Enfield and Jonesboro were essentially off line in April, May and June of this year. During that period, the report showed, they purchased only a small fraction of the wood fuel that they had promised to buy, and also had significantly cut their workforces. The plants remained off line in July, too. Principal Fahim Samaha said low wholesale electricity prices and values for renewable energy credits in New England have made operating the plants uneconomical at this time, even with the state subsidy. Read the story.


Trade mission bound for U.K., Ireland

Maine’s North Atlantic Development Office is putting together a trade mission headed by Gov. Paul LePage for companies interested in increasing business with the United Kingdom and Ireland. The nine-day trade mission in September will feature “business meetings, group events, and unique cultural opportunities designed to help Maine companies expand their business development networks in these important markets,” according to the office. Among the planned activities are the Leeds International Beer Festival in England, a “Maine and the UK” event in Parliament’s Palace of Westminster in London and the Taste of West Cork Festival in Skibbereen, Ireland. The focus of the trip is on aquaculture, defense and security, food and beverage, information technology, life sciences and medical devices, and marine equipment and technology. Read the story.


Desert of Maine for sale

After nearly 15 years of keeping business blooming at the Desert of Maine, Gary and Ginger Currens are ready to sell their home at 95 Desert Road in Freeport and the dunes that come with it. Ginger Currens says it is “just time” for the couple to move on. The roughly 40-acre property, offered for $725,000, includes the “desert” and surrounding trails, the couple’s home, a 48-site campground, a gift shop and a barn that is more than 225 years old – the last remaining evidence that the desert was once a fertile farm.

Currens said there is no criteria for prospective buyers, but they hope the property will remain a tourist attraction. Read the story.


Wex reports strong earnings, intends to hire 175

Corporate payment services provider Wex Inc. of South Portland reported strong earnings growth for the second quarter, aided in part by higher fuel prices and lower corporate taxes. The company also said it plans to hire an additional 175 employees in Maine by the end of this year as a result of new contracts with fuel producers Shell Oil Co. and Chevron Corp. Wex reported Thursday that its revenue for the second quarter was $370.9 million, a 22 percent increase from $303.9 million for the second quarter of 2017. Of the $67 million increase for the quarter, $16.6 million was the result of higher fuel prices, the company said. Read the story.

Commerce Department upholds tariffs on newsprint

Most of them are reduced from the initial levels, but the harm is already being done to U.S. newspapers. The U.S. Commerce Department has upheld recently imposed tariffs on Canadian newsprint despite warnings that the import taxes could be devastating to the already struggling American newspaper industry. The revised tariffs unveiled Thursday are lower in most cases than those originally imposed this year but still would slap an anti-dumping border tax as high as 16.9 percent on one Canadian paper manufacturer. Newspaper executives in Maine said their Canadian newsprint suppliers already have raised prices as a result of the initial tariffs. The International Trade Commission still could reduce or eliminate the tariffs. It is expected to render a decision on the matter by mid-September. Read the story.

Idexx reports double-digit growth

Veterinary diagnostics provider Idexx Laboratories Inc. of Westbrook reported double-digit growth in revenue and net income for the second quarter. The company said Wednesday that its revenue for the quarter was $580.8 million, up 14 percent from a year earlier. Idexx reported adjusted quarterly net income of $108.7 million, or $1.23 per share, up 29 percent from a year earlier. The company said its second-quarter results were driven by robust gains in recurring revenue for its pet division, Companion Animal Group, including double-digit revenue growth in its VetLab consumables and reference laboratory diagnostic and consulting services. Read the story.

Fork Food Lab closing

The parent company of the Fork Food Lab in Portland notified its members this week that it will close at the end of September, only two years after it opened. The lab opened in Portland’s West Bayside neighborhood in 2016 to give space to as many as 45 entrepreneurs hoping to create their own food-related products. It wasn’t clear Tuesday how many members would be affected. Zach Ware, CEO of Pilotworks, the company that has operated Fork Food Lab, said the business was no longer viable. Read the story.

Hearst media company wants WPXT

Hearst wants to buy a second television station in southern Maine. The company, which owns WMTW (ABC affiliate channel 8) in Portland/Auburn, is buying WPXT in Portland, which airs as channel 51 on most cable systems. The station carries programming from the CW network under the names MeTV and MyNetworkTV. Hearst is buying the station from Ironwood Communications. Terms were not disclosed, and the deal is subject to regulatory approval. Read the story.