MACHIAS, Maine — Down East Community Hospital learned Wednesday that its emergency operator, Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, will be allowed to continue receiving Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements on its behalf, just two days before it was scheduled to be cut off.
The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services informed EMHS this week that implementation of an approved corrective plan to bring the hospital into compliance with CMS standards will allow the reimbursements to continue unimpeded.
DECH was informed in late June that the hospital no longer met CMS provider requirements because it failed to correct deficiencies identified in recent licensing surveys.
That same day, DECH placed CEO Wayne Dodwell on administrative leave. Last week the state placed the hospital in receivership, with EMHS as the operating agency, in order to continue medical services for the people of Washington County.
Interim DECH CEO Doug Jones said he is very pleased with Wednesday’s decision by CMS.
“This is a great hospital and we are fortunate to have many talented clinicians and professionals here,” Jones said in a prepared statement. “Together, along with the guidance of EMHS, we will place Down East Community Hospital on a path to a brighter future.”
Suzanne Spruce, director of communications at EMHS, said Wednesday that as the receiver, EMHS must implement corrective actions and begin bringing the hospital into compliance.
“After the deficiencies were first identified and DECH was put on notice, DECH submitted a plan for corrective action and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services approved the plan,” Spruce explained. “Our job is to implement that plan.”
She said changes are already under way, including the biggest and most visible — the installation of an interim CEO. Other changes will be ongoing.
“This is a very delicate process,” Spruce said. “EMHS’ receivership will be reviewed again on September 30 and we will have to show significant progress.”
Spruce said that between now and the end of September, DHHS will continue to review the hospital’s operation and progress.
EMHS President and CEO Michelle Hood also said Wednesday she is pleased that DECH will continue to receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.
“There is still much work to be done, and we continue to investigate deficiencies,” Hood said. “However, in order to continue serving patients and operating a viable business, we must also have revenue. Without our largest client — Medicare-Medicaid — providing payment for services, our corrective efforts would fall short.”
Hood also reassured residents of Washington County that EMHS “is doing everything possible to ensure that access to health care is uninterrupted in Down East Maine, and to ensure that Down East Community Hospital provides quality services to its patients and communities.”
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 led to state and federal investigations, 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 with CMS rules.
CMS issued its decision to terminate the Medicare and Medicaid agreement last month, indicating the cutoff date of July 10.
Registered nurses and other staff at the hospital are also pledging to continue quality care.
The Maine State Nurses Association, which represents RNs and technical employees at DECH, and the National Nurses Organizing Committee, announced this week that it is “supportive of the DHHS intervention” at the hospital.
“Bedside nurses call on the state to ensure continuous quality care by guaranteeing safe staffing and requiring transparency of the corporate structure,” a prepared statement stated.
Robert Simpson, a registered nurse and president of the DECH union, stressed that patient care will not suffer during the changes in leadership.
“We will continue to provide excellent patient care to this community and work with EMHS and DHHS during this process,” Simpson said in the release. “We support structural changes within the governance of DECH. These changes should allow for open input from hospital employees and the community regarding the provision of quality care to all citizens of Washington County.”
State Sen. Kevin Raye, R-Perry, also indicated in a statement that he was pleased to hear of Wednesday’s decision by CMS.
“The healing process is under way at DECH,” Raye said in a press release, “and I’m confident that the combination of dedicated staff and new leadership will secure the future of this vital institution going forward.”