ELLSWORTH — Citing a lack of enough patients using the services to keep them financially feasible, Maine Coast Memorial Hospital is ending its valet parking program and community dental clinic.
Separately, but again citing financial factors, it also is ending a chaplaincy program launched last fall. There still will be volunteer chaplains, however.
The last day of valet parking was May 26. The dental clinic located on Christian Ridge Road is expected to close at the end of June, according to Patricia Patterson King, director of marketing and public relations at the hospital.
Patterson King said valet parking at Maine Coast started years ago as a volunteer program. When it became difficult more recently to find volunteers to keep the service going, the hospital hired a private company to take over the job. She said patient demand, however, was too low to continue justifying that expense.
“It wasn’t utilized enough to continue paying for the service,” she said.
Franklin resident Diane Green was one of the patients who relied on the valet parking service. At age 75, and having used first a cane and now a walker for about a decade, Green said the valet service meant one less thing for her to worry about when she had to come in to the hospital.
“You know you’re going to drive up, and you know within minutes that someone’s going to appear,” said Green, recounting how the program worked before it ended. “It was a peace of mind thing, that you just didn’t have to worry.”
Green’s older cousin usually comes with her to the hospital, but she walks with Green rather than parks the car. Green said she feels “vulnerable” walking alone, especially when it is windy out.
Patterson King said the hospital is taking steps to help patients in the wake of ending the valet parking service. It is designating parking spaces next to handicapped-accessible spots as senior parking, putting senior citizens closer to the hospital’s entrances than if they had parked elsewhere.
Maine Coast also is working with the city of Ellsworth on putting in a pedestrian crossing light on Union Street, Patterson King said. It will be installed at the crosswalk that leads from patient parking to the “B” entrance, through which many doctors’ offices are located.
Patterson King said other area hospitals such as Mount Desert Island Hospital and Blue Hill Memorial Hospital do not offer valet parking. She acknowledged that the loss of it at Maine Coast will be “an adjustment” for those who have relied on it in Ellsworth, however.
Maine Coast does have plans in place for those patients who “absolutely” need help with parking when they come to the hospital. Patterson King said such patients should make that clear, either themselves or through their provider, when they are scheduling appointments at Maine Coast. The hospital will then take appropriate steps to help those patients.
The hospital is ending its involvement with the Maine Coast Community Dental Clinic. It took over that clinic at the start of 2014, along with Mount Desert Island Hospital in a 50/50 partnership, from Downeast Health Services.
That means the clinic on Christian Ridge Road will close at the end of June. Letters were sent to patients this week, Patterson King said, and staff members were notified previously. She said the issue, similar to the valet parking service, was “underutilization.”
“There weren’t enough patients to make it so that we could pay the staff there,” Patterson King said. “It was a business decision.”
She said the staff members, of which there are less than a dozen, all worked at both the Ellsworth clinic and another in Southwest Harbor. The latter one will remain in operation and be run by Mount Desert Island Hospital, and most staff will be able to keep working there.
Patients who can make the trip to Southwest Harbor are being referred there, Patterson King said. Others are being referred to either Dr. Marc Horowitz or the Caring Hands of Maine Dental Center, both in Ellsworth.
When Maine Coast Memorial took over the clinic in 2014, hospital officials said there were about 2,000 patients. About 20 percent were based on MDI, while the other 80 percent were on the mainland. They accounted for about 5,500 patient visits a year. The officials also noted that the dental clinic had a high percentage of patients on MaineCare (Maine’s version of Medicaid).
Patterson King said Maine Coast also is ending a chaplaincy program it started last fall. She said it was strictly a financial decision, and in no way a reflection on the Rev. John Allison, who was the person brought on board to fill the position.
There will still be clergy, including Allison, serving as chaplains at Maine Coast on a volunteer basis, Patterson King said.
Maine Coast President and CEO John Ronan and Vice President of Finance Wendy Jones were both at a training session in Brewer on Wednesday morning and could not be reached for comment on the changes at Maine Coast.