ELLSWORTH, Maine — Maine Coast Memorial Hospital officials on Tuesday unveiled plans for a $2.1 million expansion of a cancer center that offers treatment closer to home to those living in rural Down East Maine.
Created in 1997, the Mary Dow Center for Cancer Care began with just two recliners and a few staff to provide treatment to cancer patients who previously would have had to drive to Bangor or beyond for care. Since then, the Ellsworth facility has provided tens of thousands of treatments to patients suffering from not only cancer but also rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, immune deficiencies and blood disorders.
Later this fall, Maine Coast Memorial plans to break ground on a new, 6,000-square-foot home for the cancer center. Officials plan to renovate the former emergency department and construct a 3,000-square-foot addition near the hospital’s northeast entrance.
Plans for the new treatment center were unveiled Tuesday night during the hospital’s annual meeting.
“We already have a fantastic staff and now they and our patients are going to have a fantastic center,” Robert Merrill, chairman of the hospital’s board of trustees, told several hundred members of the community, invited guests and hospital staff.
The new facility, which is expected to be complete sometime next year, will double the number of infusion chairs where patients sit while receiving intravenous treatment. The renovated and expanded center also will feature private and semiprivate rooms, exam rooms, a pharmacy, additional office space for staff as well as a healing garden.
A partnership with Eastern Maine Medical Center’s CancerCare of Maine program, the Mary Dow Center serves an area of the state — Hancock and Washington counties — that has incidence rates that are higher than the state average for three of the four most common forms of cancer. Additionally, recent census data shows that Ellsworth is Maine’s fastest-growing city.
“For someone to have to make a 30- to 40-mile trip for treatment when they are feeling horrible, well it can feel like a 3,000-mile trip,” Merrill said.
Last fiscal year, the Mary Dow center recorded more than 4,400 patient visits, according to figures supplied by the hospital.
Jayne Wixon, the center’s clinical nurse manager, said the new facility will provide a much more modern and comfortable setting for people enduring often difficult treatment regimes.
“Our new space will be bigger, brighter and safer,” said Wixon, a registered nurse.
In addition to institutional funds, hospital officials hope to attract private donations to help cover the $2.1 million price tag for the center expansion. The center is named for registered nurse Mary Dow, who worked at Maine Coast Memorial for more than 40 years but who had to travel outside of the area to receive treatment for breast cancer.
In other hospital news, board of trustees treasurer Adin Tooker told the audience that Maine Coast Memorial completed the most recent fiscal year with a net operating gain of $4.7 million. But the hospital only finished in the black because the LePage administration repaid $6.8 million in Medicaid debts owed to the hospital and because of staff efforts to keep costs down.
Maine Coast Memorial is still owed more than $10 million in Medicaid payments, but Tooker praised Gov. Paul LePage for making the repayments a priority. He said hospitals still face major financial challenges because of anticipated reductions in state and federal reimbursements.
“We are expanding where we need to … and we are cutting where we must,” he said.