Competing hospital merger plan seeks to avoid ‘medical arms race’ in Brunswick

Posted Sept. 20, 2012, at 12:09 p.m.

BRUNSWICK, Maine — Mid Coast Hospital filed an application with the state Wednesday to take over Parkview Adventist Medical Center in Brunswick.

Mid Coast’s application rebuts a filing last month by Central Maine Healthcare of Lewiston, which also seeks to take control of Parkview, and would avoid what Mid Coast said would be a “medical arms race” in the Brunswick region.

Mid Coast argues that decisions about health care in the Brunswick area should remain in the Brunswick area, though the previous application from Central Maine Healthcare would preserve Parkview’s board of directors with ultimate governing authority falling to the Lewiston-based organization’s board.

Central Maine Healthcare officials have said their proposal is consistent with what has already happened numerous times in Maine and beyond — namely large hospitals taking over smaller ones while allowing them to remain in existence — including Central Maine Healthcare’s takeover of Rumford Hospital and Bridgton Hospital more than a decade ago. Chuck Gill, Central Maine Healthcare’s vice president for public affairs, has said that no money would change hands and no services would be altered in the Brunswick region under Central Maine Healthcare’s merger proposal.

“This is a change-of-control application that’s been done multiple times in Maine and across the country,” said Gill in late August. “For a small, standalone hospital, the best way into the future is to be part of a larger system.”

The competing applications were filed with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services under a process called certificate of need, which requires hospitals to justify major investments before moving forward with them.

Mid Coast claimed in its application that the consolidation of the two neighboring hospitals could save up to $250 million in health care costs in the midcoast region over the next decade. Those savings could be accomplished with a renewed emphasis on preventative health care and the elimination of overhead costs associated with maintaining two acute-care facilities, according to a press release from Mid Coast.

Lois Skillings, president and CEO for Mid Coast Health Services, said such a merger would save money and follow the national trend of hospital consolidations that altogether could be part of the solution to fix the overall health care system.

“CMHC’s plan will drive up our health care costs,” said Skillings in a press release. “In essence, their plan shifts resources away from important priorities such as disease prevention, health promotion and primary care. … It is not in the best interest of the people of this region, especially at a point in our history when health care experts around the country are recommending that there be fewer hospitals. CMHC’s proposal represents a continuation of the type of flawed thinking that is no longer sustainable.”

Central Maine Healthcare’s application would rewrite Parkview’s bylaws and articles of incorporation, retaining the Parkview name. Central Maine Healthcare already provides Parkview with administrative and emergency room services under an agreement inked several years ago. Mid Coast proposes a total consolidation that would absorb Parkview into the nearby Mid Coast Hospital campus.

To attain financial thresholds required in the certificate-of-need process, Mid Coast would establish a $10 million Parkview Health Trust, which would support efforts to improve preventative and public health activities.

The certificate-of-need process takes two months or more to complete and involves opportunities for the public to weigh in.

Mid Coast Hospital has been trying to merge with Parkview for several years but those negotiations have never come to fruition. Skillings said she regrets that at times those negotiations have caused tension between the two organizations.

“This is a new opportunity for all of us to look at a very different landscape and a new way of delivering health care,” she said. “Ours is the smallest region in the northeast trying to support two acute-care hospitals and it makes sense that we would put forth an alternative proposal which calls us to consolidate care so that we are able to maintain high-quality, local care.”

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