CALAIS, Maine — In a time when some Maine hospitals have been forced to lay off staff, Calais Regional Hospital has been able to hold its own.
With one year on the job under his belt, CEO Michael K. Lally said the hospital is moving forward. But that doesn’t mean that belt-tightening hasn’t been ongoing.
Last year the hospital dropped from a 40-hour week to a 37½-hour week.
“It was very painful for us, but we adapted,” he said. “And this move afforded us the ability to be in a stable position. We are going to keep it at 37½ for this year, trying to be proactive.”
This ties in with a lighter patient load, said Dee Dee Travis, hospital spokeswoman.
“Our volume of patients is down because a lot of people — due to a lack of insurance and the economy — are delaying care,” she said.
Lally’s first year on the job has been one of reflection during which the hospital’s strengths and weaknesses were identified and a three-year strategic plan was established, he said.
Focus groups that included hospital staff, employees, board members and community groups participated in what Lally called “a deliberate, intensive process.”
“We determined that our quality of care is top-notch,” he said. “We compare favorably with our peers. Another strength is the compassionate care of our staff, which is a tribute to our entire employee body.”
One of the plan’s goals is “to continue growth and development in a time of financial and economic stress.” To this end, Lally said, several new programs will be coming to CRH, including starting a sleep laboratory program, installing a pain management program and a hospitalist program.
Hospitalists complete medical school and usually specialize in internal medicine, family practice or pediatrics. They might be members of a medical practice, or they may cover for one or several physicians independently. Hospitalists sometimes may be hired to handle on-call services for a physician after hours or weekends and holidays.
“Physician recruitment is a challenge for all rural hospitals,” Lally said.
Another challenge is payment for services and health care reform, and CRH is closely watching the national health care front, as well as the state budget shortfall.
Last year, the state’s reduction in Medicaid and Medicare payments cost CRH almost a half-million dollars.
Lally said the hospital’s charity and bad debt load have both increased significantly.
“This combination made it even more important to control efficiencies,” Lally said.
One way to do this is to share physicians with specialties with other hospitals.
“We are already working with our neighbors — Down East Community Hospital [in Machias] and Eastern Maine Medical Center [in Bangor],” he said. “We are currently sharing an obstetrician to cover on weekends, vacations, and we will continue to talk about sharing like that.”
CRH, serving northeastern Washington County, has 15 acute care beds and 10 swing beds, in addition to a 24-hour physician-staffed emergency department. It is the largest employer in Calais with more than 200 employees, including 16 physicians.
Lally arrived in Calais after 14 years as CEO of Westerly Hospital in Westerly, R.I., and more than two years at Brown University’s teaching hospital in Providence, R.I.
“I love small communities,” he said. “I liked what I saw here immediately. I also enjoy working in a hospital setting. It allows me to coordinate different constituencies. And I also get to see people I know through work at the shopping areas, the ball field.”
He said it is critical for the hospital to recognize that each department has a specific role to play, but that they must operate as a team.
“It is not easy to take care of sick people 24-7,” he said. “We need to step back and recognize each other.”
As part of that recognition effort, CRH will hold a Business After Hours event at the surgery department 5-7 p.m. Thursday, April 8. The public is invited.