DECH put under new leadership

Posted July 01, 2009, at 8:30 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Down East Community Hospital has been placed under new management, ending months of state and federal scrutiny and quelling recent uncertainty about the future of the Machias health care facility.

A Kennebec County Superior Court judge made the decision Wednesday in response to a petition filed a day earlier by the state and the hospital seeking to place DECH in receivership.

As proposed, Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems was appointed as the emergency receiver and Doug Jones, former president and CEO of Maine Coast Memorial Hospital in Ellsworth, will be named interim CEO at DECH.

“We are very pleased that Eastern Maine Health Systems has agreed to step in and assume this responsibility,” Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Brenda Harvey said in a press release Wednesday. “We believe that they have the resources and the expertise necessary to lead the hospital through this process.”

Jones, who led Maine Coast Memorial Hospital for 10 years, retired from his position on Tuesday, a move that had been planned for some time. The announcement of his impending appointment as interim CEO at DECH came Wednesday afternoon.

Jones said Wednesday that he has not yet seen the operations information about the hospital. He said that, despite the problems, he was confident the hospital would provide quality service to the region.

He said he did not know how long his tenure would be.

“I’m there to solve some problems, not for short- or long-term service,” he said. “I’ll continue there for as long as it takes to fix the problems.”

Last week, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told the Machias hospital that it would halt reimbursement payments after July 10, a move that would have a major impact on the 25-bed facility.

Harvey said placing the hospital in receivership is a big step toward correcting deficiencies that have been identified at the hospital.

“By taking this action, the receiver and the leadership team at Down East Community Hospital can focus their energy on correcting the deficiencies identified in recent licensing surveys,” she said in the release. “Implementing approved, concrete steps that have been outlined in previous plans of correction will bring the hospital back in compliance with the standards of quality established by [CMS] and will allow the hospital to continue receiving federal Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.”

Going forward, Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems hopes to gain an extension from CMS on the July 10 deadline.

“We are early in discussions and do not currently have answers to the problems that need to be addressed,” said Michelle Hood, president and CEO of EMHS. “In this agreement, we will build upon our mission and draw on our wealth of expertise to help repair the problems with the health care delivery system in Down East Maine.”

Harvey also was optimistic about an extension.

“It is our hope that CMS, based on this action and the plan for implementation, will agree to extend the current funding termination date so that the hospital can continue to receive Medicare reimbursements,” she said. “We want to assure the people of Washington County that we and EMHS are doing everything possible to ensure that services continue uninterrupted at Down East Community Hospital, and to ensure that the hospital provides quality services to its patients.”

DECH spokeswoman Julie Hixson said Wednesday that the hospital has fully cooperated during the receivership process. She also noted that two subsidiaries of DECH, Sunrise Care Facility in Jonesboro and the Maine Veterans Home in Machias, will not be affected by the recent management change.

“The hospital welcomes [Jones] and pledges full cooperation with him to address the plan of correction related to the CMS survey results,” Hixson said in a statement. “The first priority will be to take actions required to bring the hospital in compliance with CMS requirements for licensing, with the goal of implementing needed measures to assure CMS that the deadline for termination of DECH’s Medicare participation should be extended.”

The Machias hospital first came under scrutiny in January 2008, when Reid Emery, a former patient, checked out of the hospital and later was found dead in a nearby snowbank. Since then, other incidents have led to state and federal investigations during the last 17 months, including one earlier this year by CMS that found serious violations in emergency room procedures.

Despite several chances to address deficiencies, DECH failed to come into full compliance, which prompted CMS to issue its decision to terminate the Medicare and Medicaid agreement.

Wednesday’s court decision effectively ends DECH’s long relationship with Quorum Health Resources, a private management company based in Tennessee.

Wayne Dodwell, who was picked by Quorum and the DECH board of trustees in 2002 to lead the hospital, was placed on administrative leave effective last Friday. He could not be reached for comment this week.

A spokesperson for Quorum, which also manages five other Maine hospitals, did not return a call for comment Wednesday. However, Quorum indicated in a statement last week that it had repeatedly made suggestions to the DECH board of trustees about making changes but the board was not receptive.

“Over the last 18 months, the DECH board has developed a clear preference in how they desire to manage the hospital, particularly in relation to regulatory compliance,” read the statement from Susan Hassell at Quorum headquarters. “In some instances, their preference differs from our company’s approach to hospital management.”

BDN reporter Rich Hewitt in Ellsworth contributed to this report.

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