MaineHealth, the nonprofit parent of Maine Medical Center and other hospitals in the state, finished on Wednesday merging its systems, unifying budgets under one umbrella organization and creating a more centralized health care system.

One reason for the initiative is to help preserve health services in rural areas of Maine, hospital officials said.

“The real practical benefit is that we can protect access to services in our communities,” said Bill Caron, president of MaineHealth. The nonprofit operates Maine Medical Center and 11 other hospitals and health care services, including rural locations such as Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway, Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast and Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington.

Rural health care is under threat in Maine and many areas of the country because of financial pressures, stemming in part from shifting more expensive services to regional medical centers. Also, the way the United States pays for health care means lower reimbursements for services like primary care or obstetrics. Rural areas also face a declining, aging population.

For instance, maternity service centers have been closing across the United States.

In Maine, rural hospitals such as Calais Regional Hospital and Penobscot Valley Hospital in Lincoln – both independent hospitals not affiliated with MaineHealth – closed maternity services during the past few years.

Caron said maternity is an essential part of what hospitals do and MaineHealth will protect the obstetric services when it can. By having a consolidated budget, MaineHealth has a stronger ability to maintain services like obstetrics at its rural hospitals, in comparison to independent hospitals.

Richard Petersen, president and CEO of Maine Med, said the hospital network also can more efficiently funnel specialized services to Maine Med – such as robotic surgeries – when needed.

“Not every community can or should purchase a $2 to $3 million dollar robot,” Petersen said.

On Wednesday, corporators, which are similar to shareholders at a for-profit company, approved the final step of unification, which means the MaineHealth Board of Trustees will make final decisions on what occurs at each hospital.

Local hospital boards will remain, and will retain the power to make recommendations. The system has been working toward unification for years, with the first test votes occurring in 2017. Previously, all of the local hospital boards, and the MaineHealth board, voted in favor of consolidating.

“We’ve already made great progress coordinating care in areas such as cardiac care, cancer care and stroke care,” Joan Boomsma, senior vice president and chief medical officer of MaineHealth, said in a news release. “Unifying as one organization will make it easier for us to provide the best possible care as close to home as possible in every community we serve

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

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