Down East Community Hospital back under local control

Posted Oct. 25, 2011, at 1:37 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 28, 2011, at 3:09 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — After being under the emergency control of Brewer-based Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems for more than two years, Down East Community Hospital has accomplished numerous improvements and resolved issues that led to its court-ordered receivership.

Following a hearing at the Kennebec County Superior Court, Justice Robert E. Murray confirmed on Oct. 20 that the receivership has been successfully concluded and that DECH is back in control of its own operations.

DECH previously had been plagued by a lack of community confidence and state violations that peaked with the death of a patient in January 2008.

That patient, Reid Emery, 61, of Eastport, 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 snowbank.

An investigation into Emery’s death by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found, among a number of other deficiencies, that hospital staff had failed to meet the safety needs of the patient.

After a number of investigations into clinical and administrative complaints, the state placed the hospital in receivership in July 2009, with EMHS taking over operations. Officials immediately got to work on correcting deficiencies that could have affected the hospital’s Medicare and Medicaid provider status.

Doug Jones, DECH president and CEO, stated in a prepared statement issued this week that the hospital plans to sustain the momentum of improvement that has built over the last several months.

“DECH owes EMHS a big thank you for not only agreeing to take on this responsibility, but also for sending us considerable expertise in many areas, including; nursing, operations, governance, and communications. Under the leadership of [EMHS President and CEO] Michelle Hood, EMHS staff stepped in, hired me, launched a plan of corrective action, and helped us tackle some significant challenges, and they did so in a friendly and extremely capable manner.”

Jones also noted that in the 27 months of receivership, DECH has updated its Code of Conduct and begun holding people accountable to it, improved transparency and communication, launched a quality improvement program that officials with the state Department of Health and Human Services called one of the best they’ve ever seen, and established a new board of trustees and chairman, among other accomplishments.

Hood said that EMHS has been proud to support DECH and the Machias community, and that it’s satisfying to see the hospital now able to stand on its own and working diligently for a successful future.

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