ROCKPORT, Maine — Pen Bay Healthcare, the parent organization of Pen Bay Medical Center, is blaming a lack of state Medicare payouts combined with fewer patients for its being forced to eliminate 19 positions and cut expenses. More layoffs are also possible.
A Maine Hospital Association official said Friday that health care facilities statewide have been similarly afflicted by economic challenges and that about 800 health care jobs have been lost in Maine in the past two years.
Pen Bay Healthcare announced in a press release Friday that emergency visits at the hospital are down 11 percent, surgeries are down 19 percent and births are down 7 percent, while free care and bad debt have increased 50 percent in the last two years.
The health care system release also indicated that referrals to its Kno-Wal-Lin home care division and the average daily census of its hospice program are down 14-15 percent.
“The board of trustees is insisting that we meet the budget and take whatever steps are necessary,” Christopher Burke, Pen Bay Healthcare’s director of marketing and communication, said in a phone interview Friday. “We feel like we need to adjust to what we see as the new normal. We’ll be looking at the finances regularly. We already are.”
Burke said 15 workers are losing their jobs and four open positions will not be filled. He added that more layoffs are possible.
Burke did not say which jobs were affected, but said they were across the board and did not target any one area.
Burke said patients should not be affected by the layoffs.
“The care will always be excellent. We’re just adjusting our model and staffing to meet our decreased demand in volume,” Burke said Friday after the announcement. “It’s not easy decisions. We’re the largest employer in the area. We are aware of the impact to the community.”
Pen Bay Healthcare’s 2010 budget of $139 million supports about 1,500 employees systemwide.
Pen Bay Healthcare includes Penobscot Bay Medical Center in Rockport, the Knox Center for Long-term Care in Rockland, Quarry Hill extended care facility in Camden, Kno-Wal-Lin Home Care and Hospice in Rockland, Midcoast Mental Health in Rockland and various physicians and associates.
Steven Michaud, president of the nonprofit Maine Hospitals Association, an advocate for hospitals, said Pen Bay Medical Center is in a position many Maine hospitals are in. Patients are wary to spend money on health care during the recession, he said. Many people have been laid off and lost their health insurance, while other workers are experiencing higher costs for insurance. This has resulted in fewer people coming through the hospital doors and more people waiting to get care, Michaud said.
“The majority of the reason for these problems are a very significant decline in patient volume. When the recession started in the end of ’08, we saw very steep declines and we thought we would have to ride this out,” Michaud said. “We are now into year two of dealing with this — and I will be honest — we didn’t expect that. We thought it would be six months to a year of an issue.”
Michaud said not only have the number of patients in Maine remained low, but numbers continue to drop.
The Maine Hospital Association surveyed hospitals this spring and discovered at least 600 jobs were lost since the recession started.
“Since we surveyed, there have been a lot more,” Michaud said. “My guess is we’ve got to be close to 800 jobs eliminated since the beginning of the recession.”
According to Michaud, the only way to reinvigorate the hospitals in Maine is for the economy to turn around.
“Jobs cure a lot of ills,” Michaud said. “Until the economy starts creating jobs, we are going to be in the middle of this. It isn’t going to end until jobs start getting created so people have insurance and money.”