Machias hospital faces compliance deadline

Posted April 12, 2009, at 9:32 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — Down East Community Hospital has until Wednesday to come into compliance on concerns uncovered during a recent federal survey or it will lose its ability to receive Medicare reimbursement.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has informed the hospital that it is prepared to terminate DECH’s participation in the Medicare program after April 15. Announcements of the notification were scheduled to appear today in local newspapers.

The threatened sanction comes on the heels of a recent investigation that revealed numerous failures in emergency room procedures at the Machias hospital after an incident last fall.

It was the third federal survey in about 15 months that found DECH out of compliance and required drastic changes in various procedures at the hospital.

If the hospital loses reimbursements from Medicare, a federally subsidized health insurance program that many Mainers rely on, it almost certainly would cripple the 25-bed facility and health care nexus of the Machias community.

Hospital spokeswoman Robin Popp said in a statement released over the weekend that DECH staff are working diligently to ensure that Medicare termination will not occur.

“Due to the status of an on-going Medicare survey process, CMS is required to publish this notice at this time,” Popp wrote. “However, efforts are ongoing to assure DECH’s continued participation in the Medicare program. Hospital leadership is confident that DECH will be able to demonstrate its compliance with applicable [federal] requirements before the deadline.”

Down East Community Hospital has been under close federal scrutiny for more than a year, but concerns have accelerated in the last two months. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services also has kept a close eye on concerns at the hospital recently, and in February the state demoted DECH to a conditional license.

An internal memo from hospital CEO Wayne Dodwell, which was leaked to the Bangor Daily News, sought to dampen any rumors about DECH’s future.

Dodwell indicated in the memo that, despite any gossip, the hospital is not in danger of shutting down. He also wrote that DECH has been receiving consulting from Quorum Health Resources, a national firm that provides the hospital’s administrative services, and also from Eastern Maine Healthcare.

A spokeswoman for Quorum, a Tennessee-based company that manages five smaller hospitals in Maine including DECH, said late last week that she was well aware of the problems at the Machias facility.

“We’re working closely with the hospital to identify ways for them to improve,” Susan Hassell said in a telephone interview. “Clearly, there are issues, but we still believe the hospital offers high quality care.”

erussell@bangordailynews.net

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