Hospital projects $4-million loss



ELLSWORTH — Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital is “on track” to become profitable in 2019 but is still projected to have a $4-million operating loss this year.

Maine Coast President John Ronan gave a financial overview at the hospital’s annual meeting Tuesday.

That loss is less than the hospital experienced the previous two years, but not what administrators had hoped for. In fiscal year 2017, Maine Coast reported an audited, consolidated year-end operating loss of $6.47 million. In fiscal year 2016, its first as part of the larger, Eastern Maine Health System (now Northern Light Health), the comparable figure was $6.35 million, according to reports in The American.

Ronan said in an interview before the meeting that he expects the loss to be made up through expanded primary care practices, partnerships with other regional hospitals and increased surgical services.

Maine Coast also will be able to leverage its affiliation with Northern Light Health as contracts for equipment and other necessities come up for renewal.

“We’ve tagged onto purchasing power efficiencies across the organization,” Ronan said. He added that there will be “no cuts on the clinical side. That’s not where we want to reduce.”

The hospital has struggled with staffing in recent years, relying on locum tenens (physicians or specialists who fill in on a temporary basis) and traveling providers to fill positions, which can be costly.

Ronan said in an interview that staffing “is going really well.”

The recent addition of a general surgeon and OBGYN to the team should help increase profitability, Ronan said, by “keeping care local,” meaning patients will not have to be sent elsewhere. The hospital also will be able to bill for increased imaging services.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Ronan also addressed “employee engagement.” An employee survey in January of 2019 will provide “critical feedback,” said Ronan, adding that the hospital also will hold forums in the fall and spring.

“We’re excited to get those results,” Ronan said.

A walk-in clinic on Resort Way, which opened in the spring, has added revenue.

“It’s exceeded all of our expectations and has seen almost 3,000 patients since late summer,” Ronan reported. “Around 20 percent were not patients of our hospital.”

In remarks on Tuesday, Ronan also emphasized philanthropy as increasingly important to operating a hospital.

“Philanthropy used to be nice to have, but it’s not a luxury for hospitals anymore,” Ronan said.

The hospital received high marks for quality and safety from two national groups, Ronan announced.

The Leapfrog Group, an independent nonprofit that evaluates more than 2,600 hospitals each year, awarded Maine Coast an “A” safety rating. The group, which publishes its reports online, looks at potential safety issues such as infection rates, complications from surgery and communication between staff and patients in its assessment. Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor was awarded a “B” rating.

Maine Coast also received a Gold Seal of Approval from The Joint Commission, a nonprofit which evaluates compliance with hospital standards, effectiveness and quality of care.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the staff and the leadership team that we have to achieve that gold standard,” said Ronan.

The event, held at Big Cat’s Catering in Trenton, was pared down compared to recent years. This was in part because of the hospital’s financial situation, said hospital spokeswoman Kelley Columber in an interview before the meeting. No awards or recognitions were announced, as has been done in previous years, but care providers from a range of specialties were on hand to answer questions.

Kate Cough

Kate Cough

Kate covers the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. She lives in Southwest Harbor and welcomes story tips and ideas. She can be reached at [email protected]