ELLSWORTH — Maine Coast Memorial Hospital’s move to become part of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems will likely clear a major hurdle in January, paving the way for the affiliation to become official by the fall of 2015.
If approved, that affiliation would end the local hospital’s independent status that it has had since it opened its doors in 1956. MCMH officials expressed confidence that it is in the hospital’s best interest to become part of the larger system, however.
“People feel comfortable that the opportunity exists to get the value of being part of a local system while also retaining the value of local control,” said Charlie Therrien, president and CEO of MCMH.
MCMH and EMHS announced in early August its intent to explore having the Ellsworth hospital join the Brewer-based system. EMHS has eight member hospitals from Portland to Presque Isle, including Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and Blue Hill Memorial Hospital.
The five months since then have been filled with MCMH and EMHS officials doing what is termed “due diligence” — asking lots of questions and exchanging large amounts of information as both sides try to determine if the move makes sense.
“Every board member I’ve talked with is behind the affiliation,” said Adin Tooker, chairman of the MCMH Board of Trustees. “I haven’t heard anybody say, ‘No, this is a stupid idea.’”
Therrien, Tooker and Michelle Hood — president and CEO of EMHS — said both sides are in the process of getting the last pieces of information they need in order to answer any remaining questions before finalizing a definitive agreement for MCMH to join with EMHS.
That agreement will then come before the MCMH and EMHS boards, likely in January. If it is approved, as expected, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and the state’s attorney general will begin a review of the plan. The attorney general needs to be involved to make sure there are no violations of antitrust law.
Therrien said the state’s review process is expected to take between six and nine months. If the state has no objections, then Hood said the goal would be to have MCMH’s move be finalized by Oct. 1, which is the start of the fiscal year.
She said the period between the January votes and the final implementation would involve a lot of “heavy lifting,” as the two parties work to integrate everything from payrolls to computer systems.
While Tooker acknowledged joining with EMHS is “a big leap” for MCMH, he and Therrien both said the past five months of review have led them to believe that much will stay the same despite the pending change.
MCMH will still have its own management team and board of trustees, which Therrien said will “still be actively involved in the financial management and clinical oversight.”
Tooker said it was helpful to meet with board members from Blue Hill and Inland hospitals, both of which joined with EMHS previously.
“It gives you some encouragement that these folks have gone through the same process,” Tooker said.
Therrien said money that has been donated or pledged to MCMH will still be used locally, and that any future contributions also will remain in Ellsworth.
Tooker said becoming part of EMHS should allow MCMH to provide more services to Hancock County residents. Therrien said joining with the system should result in financial savings in areas such as information systems and employee health insurance (as MCMH staff will join EMHS’s insurance plan).
“We’re hoping that being part of a system will give us some tools to be more efficient,” Therrien said. He said being more efficient is especially important in an era of declining patient volume and declining reimbursement.
Hood said MCMH joining with EMHS will enable EMHS to “use our resources more efficiently across Hancock County” and “advance our mission of driving down the cost of care.”
“I think it’s a big win for us as a whole,” she said.