MACHIAS, Maine — Facing a significant drop in patient volume over the last year, Down East Community Hospital has cut approximately $1 million from its operating budget, Interim CEO Doug Jones said Friday.
The cuts reflect the elimination of four full-time, non-physician positions and will result in a handful of unfilled positions remaining unfilled. The rest of the cuts will be made through a reduction in hours for an undetermined number of staff members.
“These are tough economic times. However, I believe that by working together DECH will become stronger and continue to provide excellent care for our family, friends and neighbors,” Jones said.
Down East Community Hospital was placed in receivership in July with Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems of Brewer taking over operations after a number of investigations into clinical and administrative complaints that spanned nearly two years.
The highest-profile incident at DECH was the death in January 2008 of 61-year-old patient Reid Emery of Eastport. Emery checked out of the hospital against doctors’ wishes on a cold, snowy evening and, heavily drugged from his stay at the hospital, was found dead the next day in a nearby snow bank.
An investigation by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services into Reid’s death found, among a number of other deficiencies, that hospital staff had failed to meet the safety needs of the patient. Other investigations have identified problems in emergency care and surgical protocols, and in November 2008 patient files apparently stolen from the hospital washed up on a local beach.
Jones took over the 25-bed health care facility after former president and CEO Wayne Dodwell was ousted. The hospital also ended its long relationship with Quorum Health Services, an independent management firm that employed Dodwell.
Jones inherited a struggling hospital and has done well to turn it around.
“What’s been accomplished here in the past six months is nothing short of a miracle,” he said. “Six months into an emergency receivership, an unannounced inspection by [Maine] Department of Health and Human Services surveyors found zero deficiencies.”
In December, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services rescinded a scheduled termination date for DECH to receive Medicare and Medicaid (MaineCare) reimbursements.
“We’ve worked hard and it shows, but the hospital reached a point where some hard decisions had to be made,” Jones said, speaking of the cuts announced Friday.
Jones said the reductions will put the hospital on better financial footing, but he predicted that the bigger challenge will be to rebuild the trust of the greater Machias community. Plans include replacing the existing board of trustees and naming a new advisory board to provide community feedback to the trustees.
“We know that trust was damaged, but we need to reach out and let people know that there is quality health care close by,” he said. “This is a much-changed hospital.”