MACHIAS, Maine — The annual lighting of luminaries at Down East Community Hospital on Thursday night took on special meaning when interim CEO Doug Jones announced that a recent state survey revealed not a single violation.
State surveyors from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services conducted a surprise inspection this week on behalf of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“This is a real achievement for the dedicated folks who make up the Down East family,” Jones said Friday. “When the state of Maine brought Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems in as our emergency receiver last July, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work, and much has been accomplished in just five months — changes in practice and policy, and leadership, have made for a more open work environment in which people are being heard, ideas shared, and a commitment to our core values renewed.”
DECH has been plagued with problems for several years and accused of poor leadership, inadequate care and overbilling.
The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services notified DECH on June 26 that the hospital no longer qualified for reimbursements because it had not corrected problems and deficiencies identified over the past two years.
The hospital was placed into receivership by a federal court order with Brewer-based Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems as its emergency operator.
The Machias hospital first came under scrutiny in January 2008, when Reid Emery, a former patient, checked out of the hospital and later was found dead in a nearby snowbank. Since then, other incidents led to state and federal investigations, including one earlier this year by CMS that found serious violations in emergency room and obstetric department procedures. Despite several chances to address deficiencies, DECH failed to come into full compliance with CMS rules.
This summer, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, based in Boston, asked that the Sept. 30 deadline for DECH to come into complete compliance be extended to Dec. 31.
EMHS staff, including people from Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, have worked closely with DECH in recent months to bring the hospital up to compliance.
Jones said access to that wealth of expertise and a collegial relationship provided the momentum and know-how to make needed changes.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t say a special thank-you to the talented folks here who amid many, many changes stepped up to the challenge and are now helping steer our hospital on the right course, or as we’ve become fond of saying here, ‘doing the right thing,’” Jones said.
Jones also was quick to point out that a lot of hard work remains to follow through with the hospital turnaround.
“We are only beginning this very long journey,” he said Friday. “However, I am confident the momentum will continue and we will retain access to quality health care for the residents of Down East Maine.”