Staff cuts at Pen Bay Medical Center worry patients, former hospital board member

Pen Bay Interim Chief Executive Officer Mark Biscone.
Pen Bay Interim Chief Executive Officer Mark Biscone.
Posted June 01, 2014, at 8:45 a.m.
Last modified June 01, 2014, at 10:06 a.m.

ROCKPORT, Maine — The pending staff cuts at Pen Bay Medical Center are creating concern for some patients and a former board member of the region’s hospital.

“I’m shocked and disturbed,” said Pat Putnam of Lincolnville, who has been treated for cancer of the small bowel throughout the past year.

One of the cuts at PBMC is in the oncology department. The department had two oncologists until the end of 2010, when one doctor left and was not replaced. The current oncologist, Dr. Nadia Ramdin, is not being kept after her contract ends in November, and Pen Bay will share a cancer doctor based at Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast.

Putnam said about a dozen patients who participate in a YMCA program called LiveStrong, a wellness program for cancer survivors, have discussed the cuts and all expressed concern.

“It’s fine to change doctors if you want, it’s another thing to be forced,” Putnam said.

She started a Facebook page a few days ago titled “Support the Patients of Pen Bay Medical Center.” As of Friday morning, it had 28 likes.

“Basically, I want to get the conversation going,” she said.

Putnam said she also is concerned about the hospital’s decision to end its ties with radiologists who have been serving the hospital for many years. Instead, PBMC will contract with Spectrum Medical Group Radiologists to provide the service.

“I don’t like the idea of my X-rays being read by who knows who and who knows where,” she said.

A Camden woman battling breast cancer, who asked that her name not be used, said she was very concerned the cut would not provide enough service to cancer patients. She said her primary treatment has been at Mercy Hospital in Portland, but she has gone to Pen Bay when she had complications from chemotherapy.

She questioned how the number of patients seen at the two hospitals could be handled by one doctor.

Ria Biley of Rockland, who was diagnosed for a second time with breast cancer, said she had been treated by one of the two oncologists back in 2010. When it came time for her annual checkup, she discovered her doctor left the hospital, and she had not been notified.

She said she is not as concerned with the shared service of an oncologist as others, saying Waldo County General is directly linked to Maine Center for Cancer Medicine and a member of the Maine Cancer Consortium.

Mark Biscone, interim chief executive officer of Pen Bay Medical, said last week $2 million in cuts had to be made between now and Oct. 1 to stem a projected $2.7 million operating loss, which he said was the result of inadequate reimbursement from Medicare and reduced use of the hospital.

When the Pen Bay’s 2013-14 budget of $87.4 million was adopted last year, officials with the 99-bed hospital projected they would end the year with a $4 million operating surplus.

Biscone, the interim CEO since mid-March, said to reduce expenses the hospital will, among other things, not fill some vacant positions and share services with Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast and the Miles Campus at LincolnHealth in Damariscotta. Six positions, including administrative and finance posts that were empty, will not be filled, he said.

While running Pen Bay on an interim basis, Biscone remains executive director of Waldo County Healthcare. He has been head of the health care system in Waldo County, which includes the 25-bed Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast, for more than 30 years.

Biscone said he analyzed the need and determined the number of patients could be served with a single oncologist covering Knox and Waldo counties. The two hospitals already share multiple doctors, he said, including in urology, nephrology and vascular surgery.

“The patients we serve at Pen Bay each year will see caregivers in the same location as they have in the past, and they won’t need to travel for comprehensive care including their treatments,” Biscone said in a written statement Friday.

He said the hospitals will continue to provide full-time coverage in both locations through board certified oncologist Dr. Betsy Connelly and the nurse practitioner staff. He said the number of staffers, their hours of availability and the number of patient appointments are not being reduced beyond Dr. Ramdin’s departure.

Pen Bay, Waldo County General and LincolnHealth are all part of the parent corporation MaineHealth.

Brian Harden, a former Rockland mayor and former member of the Pen Bay Board of Trustees, said this is what he expected but dreaded when Pen Bay became part of MaineHealth.

“We are getting screwed by people who do not care about our care,” Harden said in a written statement Thursday.

The incorporators of Pen Bay Health voted 143-6 in January 2010 to become a full subsidiary of MaineHealth, the parent corporation of numerous hospitals, including Maine Medical Center in Portland.

Supporters of the move said they feared the federal and state government, facing financial problems of their own, would allow small hospitals to fail but would not let a large corporation such as MaineHealth fail. Supporters also said there would be savings through shared services and joint purchases.

One of the critics of the move, however, was Dr. Karen Backman, an oncologist at the Cancer Care Center at PBMC. She said the merger would not change patient care but that the community would lose its local control. She also voiced concern about the membership cost of Pen Bay joining MaineHealth.

She left at the end of 2010.

Everett Spear III, current chairman of the Pen Bay Health Board of Trustees, said Friday MaineHealth uses a decentralized governance and management model that leaves the control of the hospital with the local board.

He said MaineHealth informs the board of the operating margin surplus that it should have — which is 2 percent — but that otherwise the budgets are homegrown. Not once has MaineHealth rejected a budget sent to it by the Pen Bay Board, he said.

In terms of the cuts, he said the board leaves those decisions with administration.

“There are a lot of financial pressures on hospitals,” he said. “We are trying to balance the best outcome for patient care at the lowest costs.”

Pen Bay has lost money for five of the past seven years, he said.

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