BOOTHBAY HARBOR, Maine — Lincoln County Healthcare has announced that it will delay its planned closure of St. Andrews Hospital for six months, which members of a task force working against the closure said was a triumph in its efforts to keep the hospital open permanently.
Scott Shott, a spokesman for Lincoln County Healthcare, said Wednesday that the organization’s board of trustees, which previously had voted to close the hospital in April of 2013, decided recently to close in October instead. But he stressed that the decision doesn’t mean the board is backing away from its goal of closing the hospital and absorbing its operations at Miles Memorial Hospital in Damariscotta.
Shott said a major reason for the extension of the closure date is to allow towns on the Boothbay Peninsula to go through their budgeting processes for the upcoming fiscal year. Members of the task force have said previously that the closure will impact local budgets, especially when it comes to funding the Boothbay Region Ambulance Service. Because the closest hospital to the peninsula is Miles Memorial, about 18 miles away, local leaders say the closure of St. Andrews will force an expansion of the ambulance service.
“We’re making a concerted effort to work with the task force and the towns to make this transition as positive as possible,” said Shott. “This gives the towns a chance to actually budget for a different scenario with their EMS services.”
Shott said Lincoln County Healthcare is also interested in participating in a study commissioned by the task force which will look at the region’s future healthcare needs.
“We’re participating in that survey,” said Shott. “We want to give them time to come up with something that we all agree on.”
Stuart Smith, an Edgecomb selectmen who is a member of the task force, said the extension at the very least indicates that Lincoln County Healthcare is willing to negotiate.
“We’re very pleased,” said Smith. “We’re looking at this as a willingness on their part to come back to the table and talk to us so we can deal with the difficult issues around the mission change at the hospital.”
St. Andrews houses the only 24-hour emergency room on the Boothbay Peninsula. The hospital is set to become St. Andrews Healthcare Center after the closure. The difference is that it will no longer have an emergency department or house patients who need critical care or inpatient services. The facility will remain open as an urgent care center capable of dealing with most medical emergencies for people who arrive there on their own, but will close overnight. Patients requiring ambulance transport will no longer be taken to St. Andrews, but rather to Miles or another hospital.
Smith said “nothing has changed” in terms of the task force’s effort to keep St. Andrews open.
“This does give us more time, but it also signals a willingness on their part to come together and work with the task force,” said Smith. “That is very encouraging.”