There’s truth to the old saying, “Two’s company; three’s a crowd.”
Health care is changing, and it’s important that all of us pay attention. While the focus of our local situation may be on the differences that exist, a look at the whole picture reveals the emergence of a very good plan that has a real potential to heal old wounds and improve the lives of patients in our community.
Where we once had two hospitals – Parkview Adventist Medical Center and Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick – we now have a third interested party: Central Maine Medical Center of Lewiston, which recently filed a certificate of need application to take over Parkview. Our community might ask: Do we really need an outside entity coming in to provide services that already exist?
Mid Coast plans to file a competing proposal urging the two Brunswick hospitals to partner rather than remain divided. Many local doctors are hopeful that Parkview and Mid Coast will collaborate and heal a long-standing divide. Mid Coast Hospital leaders are hoping that their proposal will result in the chance to provide high-quality, locally controlled, collaborative care, saving the community more than $24 million every year; something we desperately need.
The economy is pressing us. Families and businesses can’t continue to face ever-rising health care costs. Hospitals and doctors understand and embrace the need to contain costs. So when a proposal comes along, offering this kind of savings, we take a careful look. The idea that our two local hospitals might finally come together to advance a new model of health care has real merit. The promise that such a partnership could strengthen our local system, focusing as much on keeping people healthy as on treating people when they are ill, is the way of the future.
Together, by incorporating the major elements of both of their missions and cultures, Mid Coast and Parkview could find a new way together. In so doing, they could eliminate the costly duplication of many systems, facilities and expensive technology. Consider this example: Mid Coast Hospital has 92 beds. Parkview has 55. In any given week more than 40 percent of these beds are empty. An empty bed costs our community money because hospitals must charge their fees based on the high fixed operating costs of their physical plants. If one day we had fewer in-patient hospital beds, operating costs would go down, and those savings could get passed on to patients and employers.
Another example is in our two emergency departments. Small communities struggle to maintain emergency room services, and some in our region are closing their doors due to low patient volumes. By having both emergency departments open in the middle of the night, ready, just in case an emergency occurs, you have twice the expenses without any added benefit to the community. Those costs get passed on to patients and employers in the form of higher prices.
Here are some facts about our community’s health care system:
* We are the smallest region in the entire Northeast supporting two acute-care hospitals.
* Parkview has been losing money every year for the past five years. Public documents highlight the fact that CMMC has lent Parkview more than $11 million.
* Parkview is owned and governed by the Seventh-day Adventist Church and takes a holistic approach to health care, with health and wellness central to its mission. This is important to our community, and we would like to preserve the heritage started by Dr. Bettle in the late 1950s.
* Mid Coast Hospital is a nonprofit organization, owned and governed by the community. It is recognized as one of the highest-quality, lowest-cost community hospitals in Maine and is recognized as a magnet hospital because of its exceptional nursing and patient care.
Health care providers have a responsibility to deliver what is in the best interest of our families, friends and neighbors. Through collaboration we might end up with one acute-care campus and one state-of-the-art wellness center for primary care, diagnostic services and health improvement, while preserving and strengthening spiritual care.
If an organization from away comes in and takes over Parkview, we lose a valuable chance to change with the times and become cost-efficient. They will be locking in the very costly system in which we currently operate. Healthcare providers must do all that is possible to promote a cost-savings model and reverse the trend of illness-based health care. We should embrace the concept of promoting wellness, preventing disease and being responsible for helping our patients maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Last year, our community – business owners, doctors and nurses, mothers and fathers – had the foresight to develop a vision for the future. This vision calls for all of us in health care to focus on keeping people healthy, prevent illness and injury, and provide a more coordinated continuum of care. Mid Coast and Parkview are well-positioned to work together to achieve this more sustainable, effective health care approach. If we seize this opportunity, everyone who lives and works in our community will be better served.
Jay Mullen is chief of emergency medicine, president of the medical staff at Mid Coast Hospital and president of BlueWater Emergency Partners. Jamie Rines is an internal medicine physician and vice president of the medical staff at Mid Coast Hospital.