ELLSWORTH — Sharing resources, coordinating electronic medical records and providing more patient options were some of the strategies presented Tuesday by speakers addressing today’s health care challenges.
The venue was a Community Council breakfast hosted by Maine Coast Memorial Hospital.
The biggest challenges, according to speakers, are recruiting staff, patients who can’t afford payments and hospitals working with different electronic medical records systems.
Getting young doctors to stay in the area is a particular challenge, said speaker Dr. Holly Fanjoy, chief of emergency medicine at Eastern Maine Medical Center.
“Emergency doctors are looking to be in a bigger place to keep their skill set,” said Fanjoy. “It’s harder to find quality emergency room doctors that want to work in a smaller site.”
Fanjoy briefed listeners on a collaboration with Eastern Maine Medical Center that she hopes will eliminate the need for locums — temporary clinicians who come in, often from out of state, to fill a few shifts each month.
The collaboration will involve a regular swap of emergency clinicians between Maine Coast Memorial Hospital and Eastern Maine Medical Center, as well as possible patient transfers to free up beds and allow patients to be closer to family.
Fanjoy said she hopes the sharing of resources between the three Eastern Maine Health Systems hospitals in the area — Blue Hill, Maine Coast Memorial and Eastern Maine Medical Center — will help ease some of the staffing burdens and decrease the need for outside providers, some of whom come from as far away as Texas and California to take shifts.
A fellowship program, started last year, is also aimed at helping with recruitment. “The goal is to recruit clinicians with a high likelihood of staying in Maine,” said Fanjoy.
John Ronan, president of Maine Coast Memorial Hospital and Blue Hill Hospital, noted the organization’s name change, slated to take effect in October. Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, the parent organization of both the Blue Hill and Ellsworth hospitals, will become Northern Light Health. Affiliated hospitals will retain parts of their names but Northern Light will be added to the name. Maine Coast Memorial Hospital will become Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital, and Eastern Maine Medical Center will become Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center.
Ronan also updated the gathering on the organization’s new walk-in clinic, which he said had been “really busy,” as well as expanded oncology services at the Mary Dow Center. Ronan also noted the opening, in April, of the Downeast Treatment Center, an outpatient opioid treatment facility. “It’s only getting worse, it isn’t getting better,” said Ronan, of the epidemic.
Ronan also talked about the challenge in having a separate electronic medical records system for Maine Coast Memorial Hospital. He said he expects Maine Coast to transition to the same platform as the other hospitals by 2020, but is pushing for the switch to happen sooner.
Clarifying the group’s position on Medicaid eligibility in Maine, Ronan said the organization supports expansion. “A lot of people aren’t seeking healthcare because they don’t have the ability to pay,” said Ronan, adding that the organization opposes Gov. Paul LePage’s suggestion that hospitals should pay for the increase through taxes.
Mainers voted to expand coverage to include residents earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — $16,753 for an individual and $34,638 for a family of four — but funding for the issue has been repeatedly vetoed by LePage.
Wendy Jones, vice president of finance for Maine Coast Memorial and Blue Hill Hospital, said “uncompensated care” costs Maine Coast Memorial around $18 million each year. “And it’s growing each year,” said Jones.
Those at the breakfast forum had a chance to ask questions and offer feedback. One woman, who did not give her name, said some community members felt alienated by changes that had not been well-communicated.
“Our community is concerned that they’ve been left out,” she said. “This used to be their community hospital.”
Ronan acknowledged that the organization needed to do a better job of reaching out, saying he would be happy to speak to groups who want more information and planned to be more engaged with local media, including The American, to keep the community informed about changes.