Maine Coast Hospital has first profitable quarter in at least nine years

ELLSWORTH — Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital is in the black this quarter for the first time in nearly a decade, President John Ronan said in a recent interview.

This comes after the hospital projected a nearly $4 million loss for fiscal year 2018, according to a financial overview Ronan gave in December.

“Things are going well,” Ronan said. “We’re ahead of budget and we had a pretty aggressive budget to start with.”

Ronan said a number of different programs and policy changes have contributed to the good quarter.

Efforts to increase volume have been successful — the hospital has expanded aspects of its swing bed program, which provides skilled nursing care for patients who might otherwise be transferred to an outside facility.

Surgical volumes are also up, Ronan said, and the hospital recently hired a new general surgeon, as well as adding hours at the hospital’s walk-in clinic off Resort Way.

“That is way ahead of budget,” Ronan said.

Officials also have forged relationships with area hospitals to bring patients in.

“This program tends to keep patients local, but it also frees up beds for the sicker, higher acuity patients to get to Bangor,” said Ronan, referring to Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center.

“We have actually been LifeFlighting patients in to Maine Coast from other hospitals,” Ronan said. “That’s not common. Most hospitals are flying out.”

Ronan said several area hospitals “have been sending patients to us because we provide a higher level of care than does a critical access hospital but also getting into Eastern Maine is a challenge.”

Besides, Ronan said, patients from the area “want to stay local” so their families can visit.

Administrators also have made a concerted effort to keep patient referrals in-house, which may be as simple as scheduling appointments before a patient leaves the hospital rather than in a follow-up letter.

The outsourcing of staffing also has helped stabilize costs, Ronan said, referring to a contract announced in the fall with Knoxville, Tenn.-based TeamHealth, a physician staffing firm.

Hospitalists and emergency department clinicians at Maine Coast are now technically employed by TeamHealth, which also provides a fixed rate for locum tenens, physicians or specialists who work on a short-term or long-term basis.

“We now have a fixed cost to run our ED [Emergency Department] and our hospitalist program,” said Ronan, “which makes it easier to budget.”

The hospital also is able to keep locum tenens for a longer period of time, Ronan said.

“We’re able to manage expenses,” he continued. “We’re not seeing that incremental lift.”

The hospital begins its fiscal year in October, which means its second quarter ends in March.

Ronan said that as long as the organization doesn’t get blindsided by new rules (between this year and last, said Ronan, federal reimbursement changes have cost the hospital $4.3 million) the nonprofit should make its goal of being in the black for 2019.

“Those are things you can’t plan on,” Ronan said. “But if we don’t get hit with another curveball like that this year I’m confident we’re going to make our budget.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article contained an error. Only hospitalist and emergency department providers at Maine Coast are employed by TeamHealth.

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]

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