A changing of the guard at two Hancock County orthopedic practices has resulted in the formation of a new partnership between them, one that hospital officials believe will be beneficial to patients across the region.
“We saw an opportunity to both expand and enhance our orthopedic program in the community,” said Charlie Therrien, president and CEO of Maine Coast Memorial Hospital (MCMH) in Ellsworth.
Part of that opportunity, he said, was the chance to work with Blue Hill Memorial Hospital (BHMH) as a way to create a more coordinated orthopedic surgery program and offer a broader scope of services to residents of Hancock County and beyond.
In Ellsworth, the departures of several orthopedic doctors from MCMH resulted in the hiring of three new doctors in 2015: Bruce Hamilton-Dick, who now heads Maine Coast’s orthopedics practice, and Elaine Mau and Peter Copithorne.
In Blue Hill, orthopedist Jamie White retired. As the search for his replacement began, Therrien said he and BHMH CEO and President John Ronan began talking about working together more on the orthopedic front. That discussion was timely, too, as Maine Coast was in the process of becoming part of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, to which Blue Hill already belonged.
“We asked, ‘Is this a good opportunity, since we are going to be working together in the future anyway?’” Therrien recalled.
The plan that was crafted had a vision of hiring orthopedists who, in the words of Blue Hill’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mike Murnik, are “fully capable of doing general care” but who also have training in particular specialty areas.
“We really think we’ve got the best of both worlds,” Therrien said.
Hamilton-Dick’s particular area of expertise is sports medicine. Mau, who he described as a “very skilled young surgeon,” is a shoulder and elbow expert while Copithorne specializes in minimally invasive joint replacements.
“He’s a wizard when your joints wear out,” said Hamilton-Dick regarding Copithorne.
The two hospitals are in the process of hiring a foot and ankle specialist. The idea, Hamilton-Dick said, is that when someone calls either office — Ellsworth or Blue Hill — and asks if a certain procedure can be done there, “the answer is, ‘Yes.’”
“We are going to work to re-educate the community to understand that they don’t have to go anywhere for orthopedic surgery,” he said. “We can give you big-city medicine in a community hospital.”
Both Mau and Copithorne are originally from Canada, and each has had fellowship training in addition to their medical school training and residencies. Hamilton-Dick likewise has had extensive training, and his focus on sports medicine is born out of a love for sports and working with athletes.
The sixth of seven boys, he said he was never far away from a football, basketball or hockey puck while growing up, and that there was “more than one boxing match” on a rug in the downstairs of his family’s home.
He went on to serve as director of sports medicine at the University of Connecticut from 1990 to 1995, which he said was an exceptional career opportunity.
“You couldn’t bathe in any deeper water from a sports point of view,” he said.
He served as the physician for the 1996 U.S. Olympic women’s field hockey team and after that went on to train in orthopedics.
In addition to the new faces in the practices, Maine Coast and Blue Hill are also revamping their total joint replacement programs. At Maine Coast, surgeons, physician assistants, nurses, therapists and caseworkers work together to make sure patients have comprehensive care from well before the surgery takes place through the post-surgery rehab that will be needed.
“It’s a complex equation that starts months before you ever have your total joint replacement procedure,” Hamilton-Dick said.
Registered nurse Susan Dugas is the total joint coordinator at Maine Coast, and runs a joint replacement “boot camp” that gives patients all the information they need and answers questions they may have before the surgery takes place. Blue Hill intends to follow suit.
“We will completely replicate that,” Murnik said.
Rooms are being redone at Maine Coast that will be dedicated for use solely by joint replacement patients. Hamilton-Dick said the rooms are being designed with the specific needs of joint replacement patients in mind.
Hospital officials noted that one of the advantages to the new partnership is that it should mean less traveling for patients who might have otherwise had to go to hospitals farther afield to get the services they need.
“To be able to do all they can close to home is a big plus,” Murnik said.
“There will be no services which will need to be obtained in Boston, Portland or Bangor that can’t be provided here,” he said. “We get you to competent, professional providers who give good quality care.”