Plan to take over Brunswick hospital draws opposition from competion

Posted Aug. 30, 2012, at 5:58 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 31, 2012, at 6:29 a.m.

BRUNSWICK, Maine — Central Maine Healthcare moved forward with plans to take over Parkview Adventist Medical Center in Brunswick with a filing Wednesday to the Department of Health and Human Services, though neighboring Mid Coast Hospital said Thursday that it will oppose the move with a counter-proposal.

Chuck Gill, vice president for public affairs for Central Maine Healthcare, which is the parent organization of Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston as well as Bridgton and Rumford hospitals, said Thursday that he filed a Certificate of Need application with the state on Wednesday. He said he expects it will take up to three months for the state to approve or reject the application, which would give CMHC overarching administrative control of Parkview, though Parkview’s local board of directors would remain in place.

“There’s no money changing hands and we’re not buying anything,” said Gill. “This is a change of control application that’s been done multiple times in Maine and across the country.”

Lois Skillings, president and CEO of Mid Coast Hospital, which is located just a few miles from Parkview in Brunswick, said Mid Coast opposes Parkview’s merger with CMHC because the board of directors believes that control of a local hospital should remain in local hands. Furthermore, she said a Parkview/Mid Coast merger would reduce health care costs in the community by $22 million.

She told the Bangor Daily News during a recent interview that Mid Coast would file a competing application in the event that CMHC and Parkview moved forward with their proposal. Stephen Trockman, a spokesman for Mid Coast Health Services, said Thursday that an application would be filed “very soon.”

“We feel that it is time for our hospitals to work together to improve health care in our community,” said Skillings. “We feel very strongly that Central Maine Healthcare should not be allowed to take over Parkview. To me it’s like a lobsterman in Rockland putting traps around Bailey Island.”

According to a letter of intent filed by Parkview and CMHC in June, the proposal is for Parkview’s articles of incorporation and bylaws to be rewritten to accommodate the change. CMHC already provides administrative and emergency room services, among other things, for Parkview. Gill said Mid Coast’s opposition to the proposal flies against a trend of smaller standalone hospitals joining larger organizations, which he said is happening on a large scale in Maine and beyond. In Maine, he cited the Rumford and Bridgton hospital mergers with CMHC as well as Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast and Penobscot Bay Medical Center in Rockport, among others, joining with MaineHealth, parent company of Maine Medical Center in Portland.

“[Mid Coast’s] opposition is an interesting and self-serving argument that’s contrary to what’s going on in Maine and the United States,” said Gill. “For a small, standalone hospital, the best way into the future is to be part of a larger system.”

In its letter of intent, Mid Coast proposed a takeover of Parkview’s services at its campus at Cook’s Corner. To attain financial thresholds required by the state’s certificate of need process — which hospitals must undergo before making major investments — Mid Coast would establish a $10 million Parkview Health Trust, the proceeds of which would “support efforts to improve the health and well-being of the midcoast communities through prevention and other population health activities.”

According to data provided by Skillings, which she said came from the Maine Health Data Organization, a state agency that collects financial and clinical data from medical providers, neither Mid Coast nor Parkview is operating near capacity and that Mid Coast could accommodate the area’s health care needs while eliminating millions of dollars in overhead.

“If we’re going to get out of this recession, we need to work together to reduce health care costs, rather than have another system duplicating our services,” said Skillings, who took over leadership of the hospital last year. “The health care system as it is today is not sustainable. We are going to have to shrink something over time. I think there’s a great opportunity for us to merge.”

In years past, the conflict between the two Brunswick hospitals has at times spilled into the public realm. Mid Coast proposed similar merger plans in 2008 and 2010, which prompted the two organizations to purchase competing advertising campaigns in local newspapers for and against the change. Skillings said she regrets that “the chasm between our organizations is very deep.”

“The division between these two organizations has gone on for too long,” she said. “It’s time for us to heal. It’s time for us to stop fighting.”

Skillings said among her fears is that some Parkview patients will be forced to travel to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston for services, but Gill said that’s not likely.

“The fact of the matter is that patients have a choice about where they’re treated,” he said. “I don’t see that changing. We have a track record of working with Parkview and that’s the reason their board of directors wants to move forward with this. We’re trying to move forward for a positive reason for the people of the Brunswick area.”

Asked whether the reason for the merger proposal has anything to do with financial problems at Parkview, Gill said “Parkview has been operating in the black for the past couple of years” and the merger would help with financial stability into the future.

Parkview board Chairman Mike Ortel said in a press release that the proposed merger with CMHC would be “a marvelous step forward.”

“We are very excited to take this very positive step of becoming a member of the most progressive health care system in Maine,” he said. “This is by far the best option for both Parkview and the communities we serve as we go forward into the 21st Century.”

Parkview President Randee Reynolds noted that CMHC has already helped Parkview launch many new services, including providing the Brunswick hospital access to physicians specializing in cardiology, orthopedic surgery, emergency medicine, family medicine and gastroenterology, as well as assisting with the installation of a helicopter landing pad for LifeFlight of Maine.

“They have proven to be an outstanding health care partner and we look forward to our future association, which will bring us so many benefits,” said Reynolds. “They have been able to improve our financial performance and operations with their assistance in the areas of purchasing, financial management and other support services.”

Trockman, the Mid Coast spokesman, said he hopes whatever happens, community members will have the opportunity to weigh in.

“There should be a community conversation about this,” he said. “It’s important for the community to have a say.”

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