Machias hospital’s fate in judge’s hands

Posted June 30, 2009, at 3:31 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — As expected, the state has petitioned in court to put Down East Community Hospital into receivership, in which hospital decisions would be made, at least temporarily, by a court-appointed administrator.

John Martins, spokesman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, said the petition was filed by DHHS Tuesday in Kennebec County Superior Court. “We’re hoping that the conditions will be amenable to the [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] to get the hospital back to proper standards and allow reimbursements,” he said.

A decision is expected sometime this week.

Last week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that oversees licensing and Medicare participation for U.S. hospitals, announced that DECH would no longer be able to collect Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements as of July 10. On Monday, the Machias hospital announced that its president and CEO of seven years, Wayne Dodwell, had been placed on administrative leave effective immediately.

An interim CEO, Craig Jesiolowski, was appointed by Quorum Health Services, DECH’s management firm, on Monday, but that appears to be a temporary move. In an interview Tuesday morning, Jesiolowski said he expected to be at the hospital only for about three to seven days.

The interim CEO also said the receivership process is in uncharted territory but that Quorum is working to calm the fears of patients and residents of Washington County.

Susan Hassell, a spokeswoman for Quorum, based in Tennessee, said last week that the management firm had tried to convince the hospital’s board of trustees to make changes for several months but was unsuccessful.

According to the document filed in court by the Maine Attorney General’s Office, DHHS has contacted Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems about serving as the emergency receiver for DECH. Additionally, EMHS has proposed appointing Doug Jones to serve as CEO. Jones now is the head of Maine Coast Memorial Hospital in Ellsworth.

Julie Hixson, a spokeswoman for Down East Community Hospital, said Tuesday that she could not comment on the latest news involving the hospital. Similarly, she said the DECH board of trustees would not comment until the court process is completed. The hospital is still providing care.

Receivership, a term often used in the financial sector, is similar to bankruptcy in which an entity can reorganize its structure to avoid further trouble. The practice is not common for privately run hospitals, according to state DHHS officials.

The court proceeding is the culmination of a tumultuous several months for DECH. During the last year and a half, the Machias hospital has faced significant and escalating scrutiny of its practices. Both the state DHHS and the federal CMS have investigated incidents, and DECH has been given several chances to remedy deficiencies cited.

In addition to the increased oversight, DECH has weathered community discord and the displacement of several physicians and other staff members in the last several months. A representative of the Maine State Nurses Association said this week that her group had worked at length to address employees’ concerns at DECH.

“We shared concerns regarding the direction the administration is taking the hospital,” the MSNA wrote to DECH board members in a letter dated April 13. “As nurses and professional staff, it has been difficult to tell hospital leadership about the serious problems that affect patients in our community and have no action taken. We have met six times and feel that those meetings are no longer productive.”

MSNA representative Vanessa Sylvester said the group then pledged a vote of no confidence in both the hospital administration and its board of trustees.

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