BRIDGTON — It was standing room only at the Board of Selectmen meeting Tuesday as a citizens’ group and Central Maine Healthcare presented competing ideas for the future of Bridgton Hospital.

The Pondicherry Group is calling for the health system to give up the hospital and affiliated medical practices so they can be taken over by someone else. Members of the group say CMHC’s management has led to 50 percent physician turnover, lower quality health care and increasing worry about the future of medical care in the area.

Central Maine Healthcare officials said this week that physician turnover was 40 percent, not 50 percent, and that they have replaced the doctors who left. They dispute that quality has decreased, pointing to Bridgton Hospital’s recent honor as one of the best rural hospitals in the country.

They say they are working to address concerns and are not going to walk away from the Lakes Region.

The Pondicherry Group had asked the Board of Selectmen to support the group’s recommendation that CMHC let go of Bridgton hospital and its medical practices so someone else can take over. Board Chairman Liston Eastman had declined, citing Central Maine Healthcare’s autonomy as a private business, but he did agree to let the two sides speak publicly during the regular board meeting Tuesday.

Eastman estimated about 60 people turned out for the meeting, a “very large crowd” for a selectmen meeting.

“I think this is something that the town of Bridgton has been waiting for and they got their chance to hear what folks have to say about health care,” Eastman said Wednesday.

Three members of the Pondicherry Group spoke Tuesday evening, outlining their concerns with CMHC’s management of health care in the area.

They said they don’t want CMHC to sell Bridgton Hospital and affiliated medical practices; they want CMHC to transfer them without compensation, since they believe the system never paid for them in the first place.

“It is our understanding that in 1999 (Central Maine Healthcare) was ‘given’ BH assets,” Cathy Finck, a representative of the Pondicherry Group and one of three group members to speak in front of the board, said in an email Wednesday.

They also asked selectmen to consider commissioning a study on health care’s impact on the area’s economic development. And they asked for the Community Development Committee to participate in future community discussions on health care access and to report back to the board with recommendations.

Two people spoke on behalf of CMHC — system CEO Jeff Brickman and incoming Bridgton Hospital President Peter Wright.

Brickman outlined the precarious state of rural health care and spoke of Bridgton Hospital’s positive financial position. He said the system continues to aggressively recruit medical providers to the area, noting that it has hired 13 since August, six of them traveling providers who work under a temporary contract.

Wright, who starts as president of Bridgton and Rumford hospitals next month, introduced himself and outlined his accomplishments in other health systems. He suggested that this was a time for the community and Bridgton Hospital to move forward.

CMHC spokeswoman Kate Carlisle reiterated Wednesday that the hospital system is committed to Bridgton and has no intention of leaving.

“Bridgton Hospital is not for sale, nor will its assets be transferred,” she said in an email.

Selectmen did not take any vote. They allowed no public comment or questions for either the Pondicherry Group or Central Maine Healthcare.

“I think hopefully we can move forward and (both sides) will just stay in touch with the public,” Eastman said Wednesday.

Fink said the Pondicherry Group will continue to speak with interested people and engage in future conversations about Lakes Region health care “wherever and whenever we can.”

CMHC officials said they will continue to recruit providers to the area, expand specialty services and complete their strategic plan for the region.

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