Hospital affiliation effort advances

Maine Coast Memorial Hospital’s effort to become part of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems is now in the hands of state regulators after two votes in favor of the move by the local hospital’s governing bodies.

Maine Coast’s corporators, a group of local stakeholders selected by the hospital, on Feb. 12 voted overwhelmingly in favor of making the local hospital part of the Brewer-based EMHS.

In addition to MCMH, all of its affiliated clinics and outpatient services also are set to become part of EMHS.
MCMH officials said about 50 corporators were present for the Feb. 12 vote. Only one of them cast a dissenting vote.

That vote followed a similar vote by MCMH’s board of directors the week before, where the plan was unanimously approved by all board members taking part in the vote.

“We’re happy with the progress that we have made in forming this partnership,” said Charlie Therrien, president and CEO of MCMH, in a statement. “An affiliation with EMHS will provide support and additional resources that we need in order to grow and navigate the rapidly changing health care environment.”

Speaking in his office on Tuesday morning, Therrien said the next steps are for the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Attorney General’s Office to review the planned affiliation. The latter agency is making sure there are no antitrust violations.

That process is expected to take about six months, which puts the affiliation effort on track to be in place by September, prior to the Oct. 1 start of EMHS’s fiscal year.

Therrien said while those reviews are taking place in Augusta, MCMH and EMHS will “now begin the process of how we integrate” in areas such as information systems, technology and employees.

“We’re laying out the groundwork so that once it is approved, we can make a smooth transition,” he said. That planning work, he added, will have “no impact on day-to-day operations.”

While becoming part of EMHS will end MCMH’s status as an independent hospital, Therrien said there is much in Ellsworth that will remain largely the same.

MCMH will still have its own board of directors, with the addition of EMHS CEO and President Michelle Hood as a member. The Ellsworth hospital’s senior management team will stay intact, Therrien said, and it will continue to build a budget for MCMH “in conjunction with EMHS resources.”

“We still are running this hospital with the local management team, and the guidance of EMHS,” he said.
Therrien said the local board of directors will “continue to play a very vital role” in providing quality oversight of operations at Maine Coast.

No programs or services will be eliminated at MCMH unless local officials agree that such action is best for the hospital. Therrien said part of the attraction in affiliating with EMHS is the “opportunity for Maine Coast to grow and expand services,” though he said it is too early to say what form such new or expanded offerings might take.
MCMH employees will be credited for their years of service and will not have to start on the ground floor with EMHS with regard to benefits.

The Maine Coast Healthcare Foundation will become part of the EMHS Foundation. Therrien stressed, however, that any financial gifts — past, present or future — made to MCMH will continue to be used to support the Ellsworth hospital.

The EMHS Foundation will keep a local office in Ellsworth for donations to and fundraising for MCMH.
Therrien said all of the contracts MCMH has in place now, from physicians to product vendors, remain in place and in effect now and after the affiliation plan gains final approval.

EMHS has eight member hospitals from Portland to Presque Isle, including its flagship facility in Bangor (Eastern Maine Medical Center) and Blue Hill Memorial Hospital.

Becoming part of EMHS will allow for closer cooperation and collaboration between MCMH and Blue Hill Memorial, Therrien said. He said there would be a “countywide perspective of how we can provide the best services to the county.”

He said both he and Hood have “made commitments to continue working with Mount Desert Island Hospital,” which would be the only independent hospital left in the county if the affiliation plan is approved.
MCMH and MDI Hospital, for example, partnered together in 2014 to bring expanded dental care to the area.
Therrien reiterated Tuesday his belief that affiliation with EMHS is in Maine Coast’s best interests and that it will be a positive development going forward.

“We feel very good, from a board and management perspective, that we put together an affiliation relationship that will allow us to do all we have done for the community in the past, and that gives us additional resources to continue to do that into the future,” he said.

Written by Steve Fuller. Published courtesy The Ellsworth American