MACHIAS, Maine — The ongoing battle at Down East Community Hospital in Machias took another strange turn recently when hospital files that were believed stolen washed up on a nearby riverbank.
A Pembroke resident stumbled across the bags of documents in the Pennamaquan River earlier this month and called police. The bags were returned to the hospital, where staff spent several days sifting through the drenched documents, according to a spokesperson for the hospital.
Karen Theriault, DECH’s health information director and compliance officer, conducted an internal investigation that included interviews with several hospital staff members and determined that whoever removed the files was not authorized to do so.
“We have referred this matter to law enforcement officials for further investigation as a possible criminal act,” Wayne Dodwell, the hospital’s president and CEO said in a statement released last week. “We take this matter very seriously, and to facilitate the investigation, we are offering a reward of $1,000 for information that leads to the identification and conviction of the person[s] responsible for this act.”
As of Friday, police did not have any suspects.
The stolen documents might not be as big a concern if not for the recent and ongoing struggle among some physicians and administrators at the Machias health care facility.
A community group, the Committee to Save Our Hospital, has formed in response to what it feels has been unfair treatment of doctors and staff at DECH. Its members have picketed outside the hospital on multiple occasions and held a forum last month hosted by a national expert on the phenomenon of “sham peer review.”
Some physicians who have been fired or dismissed believe they were the targets of sham or bad faith peer review. Dodwell and other hospital leaders have stood by their practices.