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Stronger together: A look back, forward, on merging of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, Mercy Hospital

Mercy Health Systems of Maine became part of Brewer-based Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems at the beginning of October.
Mercy Health Systems of Maine became part of Brewer-based Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems at the beginning of October. Buy Photo
Posted Nov. 12, 2013, at 2:05 p.m.

For nearly 100 years, Portland-based Mercy Hospital has served the people of Greater Portland with excellent, compassionate care. In addition, Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems has more than a century of meeting the health care needs of Maine’s residents.

The addition of Mercy Hospital and VNA Home Health Hospice to EMHS is reason for celebration on several fronts. Importantly, it preserves choice for those who make their homes in this region. This keeps all health organizations and providers striving to continually improve quality and reduce costs. It is also a win for the local economy, as EMHS is one of the largest employers in the state with more than 8,000 staff members; Mercy brings an additional 2,000 individuals to the EMHS payroll. These jobs are necessary to deliver care; they are necessary to keep local economies moving forward.

And let us not overlook the fact that, with this merger, Mercy Hospital’s Catholic identity and the powerful and historic legacy of the Sisters of Mercy will continue. This is good news for the residents of Portland and a great source of pride for both Mercy Hospital and EMHS.

Our respective organizations, boards, staff, local and state officials, the Diocese of Portland and the Sisters of Mercy Northeast Community have worked tirelessly for the better part of a year towards the shared goal of making Mercy Health System part of EMHS. What often fueled us during the long days and nights of planning and meetings, leading up to the closing day of Oct. 4, was our mindfulness of the higher purpose of the work we were doing, i.e. to improve the health of our communities.

EMHS has developed a national reputation as a leader in information technology, to ensure that patient records are portable and comprehensive. EMHS also has helped lead the way in accountable care, as one of 17 federal Beacon sites in the nation; this facilitates setting the standard for making health care more cost-efficient, as well as easier to navigate and understand.

Mercy Health System has a well-established platform of primary care sites to deliver care where people live. At a time when many health care systems are in the early stages of building a platform for medical homes-accountable care, Mercy was quick to recognize the unique role that community health systems play in improving individual health. Beginning in 2006, Mercy began to address the need for improved access and appropriate care use. Mercy now has nine primary care sites that span a radius of 75 miles in addition to 18 subspecialty practices.

Mercy also operates the largest substance abuse treatment program in the state, the Mercy Recovery Center. Untreated substance abuse disorders, from alcoholism to cocaine and opiate addiction, cost Maine hundreds of millions of dollars a year in direct medical costs as well as social costs, such as incarceration, foster care, lost wages and taxes. This amount is far greater than costs associated with all other chronic diseases. Under the EMHS umbrella, the evidence-based therapies that the Mercy Recovery Center has used with success in southern Maine can be deployed for the benefit of more Mainers suffering from addictive disorders and disease.

VNA Home Health Hospice, which also has become part of Eastern Maine Home Care, was founded in South Portland in 1921 and merged with Mercy in 1996. In joining Eastern Maine Home Care, VNA joins an extensive network of home health care from Waterville north and assisted living facilities from Bangor north. Together they will work as a coordinated team to provide technically complex and highly skilled services for patients at home and help others to avoid hospitalizations and longer and costly stays at nursing homes.

Together, we’re stronger. The boards of both EMHS and Mercy Health System take seriously their responsibility to serve their communities. Health care reform will continue to create many changes over the next few years; no hospital or health care system is immune to the challenges upon us.

With Mercy Health System joining forces with the EMHS family, we have the opportunity to collaborate and share resources and expertise. We are well-positioned to keep our focus on delivering the high-quality, affordable care you need and deserve. You have our pledge to keep our organizations focused squarely on that aim while remaining active and involved members of the community.

P. James Nicholson is chairman of the EMHS board of directors, and Thomas W. Yoder Jr. is chairman of Mercy Health System’s Maine board of directors.

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