BRUNSWICK — Brunswick-based Mid Coast-Parkview Health is considering joining MaineHealth, a health care group with more than a dozen hospitals and medical offices stretching from Biddeford to Belfast and into northern New Hampshire.

Mid Coast-Parkview Health’s 25-member board voted unanimously Feb. 19 to establish a committee to spend the next four to six months exploring whether to join the MaineHealth system.

Should it merge with MaineHealth, it will be the second major change in the southern midcoast’s health care network in recent years. In 2015, Mid Coast Hospital merged with rival Parkview Adventist Medical Center as part of a nearly $8 million sale agreement, forming Mid Coast-Parkview Health.

The changing health care landscape would be a major consideration for the merger, Mid Coast CEO Lois Skillings said. Factors include increases in regulation and governmental policies, declining health care reimbursements and increases in patient care for which Mid Coast isn’t compensated.

“Last year we provided $24.6 million in free and uncompensated care,” Skillings said.

Mid Coast, an independent health care network, also is facing pressure from competitors. That includes a new diagnostic imaging center that recently opened at Brunswick Landing, a cancer treatment facility that opened at the Topsham Fair Mall in Topsham and a new urgent care facility that is under construction on Bath Road in Brunswick – none of which is affiliated with Mid Coast or MaineHealth.

“It’s also clear that the rise of this for-profit competition locally is chipping away at our ability to be as facile and quick in responding to things because we’re looking at things like, we have to stand up a service 24 hours a day seven days a week and the others provide a great service, but they may not be here 24/7,” Skillings said.

Mid Coast-Parkview Health employs 2,000 people with more than 200 active medical staff and serves a population of 75,000. The 93-bed Mid Coast Hospital admitted 5,454 people in 2018, had 438,331 outpatient visits through Mid Coast Medical Group. The system also encompasses CHANS Home Health and Hospice and Mid Coast Senior Health.

Comparatively, MaineHealth, the state’s largest employer, has 19,000 employees and 11 community hospitals in a dozen counties in Maine and New Hampshire.

Skillings said Mid Coast has had a formal relationship with MaineHealth for 25 years. It was Mid Coast-Parkview Health that approached MaineHealth, which includes Portland’s Maine Medical Center, the state’s largest hospital.

“We could have an advantage of being on the same electronic health records, so that our patients’ information flows back and forth freely, where we can use things such as telehealth technology,” she said, “and these kinds of things that take an organization with big scope and scale that Mid Coast, as strong as we are financially and clinically, will not have the scope and depth of scale to be able to stand up these big technological advances that we think could potentially advantage our patients.”

Bill Caron, MaineHealth CEO, is confident Mid Coast would find a financial advantage.

“We haven’t gone through the exercise of calculating the financial benefits, but there are a number of financial benefits for the Mid Coast-Parkview system in that because of our size, there are economies of scale ranging from group purchasing to some back office supports that we provide – so there will be a financial benefit to them,” he said.

Since its inception in 1998, MaineHealth has had several organizations join its system, some of them struggling financially. However, Mid Coast-Parkview is financially strong, making it an ideal time to consider joining MaineHealth, Caron said.

“This is an important decision, not only for Mid Coast but for the Mid Coast community,” Caron said. “There’s no better team at having that dialogue in their community because these are transparent folks and they will say it like it is.”

Skillings said the regulatory process could take six to 12 months if the Mid Coast-Parkview board votes to proceed with integration with MaineHealth.

“We value excellence over independence,” Skillings said, adding that health care is not a business but a complex integrated delivery system that could be aided by harnessing the power of a larger health system. Most important is that patients have the care they need now and in the future.

Mid Coast is holding local focus groups and public forums through March and possibly into April to speak to community members about why the health organization is looking at this option, “and to listen to them about any questions or feedback they have,” she said.

Mid Coast also is reaching out to employees, medical staff, volunteers and other stakeholders as the exploratory committee works to learn more about what it means to be part of a larger system and what changes may be in store for patients, staff and the community. Mid Coast doesn’t anticipate any downsizing or relocation of services.

“This is just the beginning of a conversation,” Skillings said. “I know it’s the right conversation and the right time to have it.”

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