BREWER, Maine — Maine’s three largest hospital systems have teamed up with the University of New England to release a statewide assessment of health care needs. The 262-page report, released Tuesday and posted on the websites of Brewer-based Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, Augusta-based MaineGeneral Health and Portland-based MaineHealth, identifies access to effective primary care as a significant challenge across the state.
It calls for stepped-up efforts to reduce behavioral risk factors such as smoking, substance abuse, poor nutrition and sedentary lifestyles. And it points to better clinical management of chronic conditions such as heart disease, lung disease and diabetes, as well as better access to dental care and mental health services, as key to improving the health of Maine people and holding down spending in the health care system.
According to Jerry Whelan, vice president at Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, the new report will be used to help hospitals, medical practices and other players in the health care delivery system work with public health groups, schools, social service agencies and other community organizations.
“We are changing our system to be more focused on community-based care,” Whelan said Tuesday.
Rather than waiting for patients to become so ill that they must seek urgent care from doctors and hospitals, Mainers should have access to better care that helps them stay healthy in the first place, he said. In particular, Whelan said, hospitals will work with local Healthy Maine Partnerships programs, public health groups funded with a combination of public and private dollars, to identify local barriers to health and to explore solutions for overcoming those barriers, he said.
This is the third comprehensive assessment undertaken by EMHS, but the first accomplished in partnership with the state’s other hospital systems. Earlier EMHS reports were issued in 2001 and 2007. This year’s report also differs from earlier reports in seeking guidance and input from state health planners and regulators, as required by the national health care reform law. The Affordable Care Act requires not-for-profit hospitals to report every three years on the needs of the communities they serve.
The OneMaine Health Collaborative report uses detailed information compiled from hospital records, vital statistics, U.S. Census data, state infectious disease data, and self-reported data from the the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey. In addition, more than 6,400 households were surveyed by telephone. The report presents Maine data as a whole, in a county-by-county breakdown, and in comparison to U.S. figures.
The report cost about $400,000, divided equally among the three hospital systems. Whalen said EMHS’ portion of the expense was paid by EMHS Healthcare Charities, the fundraising arm of the not-for-profit organization.
In the coming weeks and months, the OneMaine Health Collaborative will co-host local forums throughout the state to provide focused information from the report to community leaders, public health groups, physicians and others.