The Lafayette Family Cancer Center on Whiting Hill in Brewer is seen in 2009 Credit: John Clarke Russ

Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center and its associated cancer center are planning small expansions so that their pharmacies will have room to comply with new national safety standards.

Those standards dictate, among other things, how hazardous materials should be handled in pharmacies and will apply to hospitals across the country, according to Tim Doak, director of facilities, planning and construction at Northern Light Health, the parent organization of the Bangor hospital.

The new regulations were written by United States Pharmacopeial Convention, an independent organization that sets food and drug quality standards, and will be enforced by various agencies that oversee health care facilities across the country.

Those changes were sparked by an outbreak of deadly fungal meningitis that began in 2012 and was traced to a pharmacy in Framingham, Massachusetts, that produced drug compounds contaminated with mold, according to Doak.

They’re expected to become official in December 2019.

In Bangor, hospital officials consulted with design professionals to identify changes that needed to be made to their existing facilities.

The regulations “will impact really every hospital in the nation that has a pharmacy of some kind,” Doak said. “By and large, it will require more space for doing different things and separate spaces to store materials and larger spaces to fix materials. As we learned about these potential rule changes, we’re proactively hoping to ensure the highest quality service.”

Northern Light is seeking licenses and permits for its expansions of Eastern Maine Medical Center and Lafayette Family Cancer Center, which opened on Whiting Hill in Brewer in 2009.
The latter project, which will be considered by the Brewer Planning Board on Monday night, is expected to be two stories and about 1,600 square feet.

Northern Light hopes to break ground on the projects by early this spring and complete them by late in 2019, according to Doak. The organization is building new pharmacies to replace the existing ones, and the work will not affect the operations of the existing pharmacies, he said.

Doak estimated that the expansion of Eastern Maine Medical Center could cost up to $2 million, while the cancer center expansion could cost up to $3 million.

While Northern Light also runs smaller hospitals in places such as Ellsworth, Blue Hill and Waterville, it probably won’t need to expand them because their pharmacies don’t handle complicated mixes of drugs, such as those used in chemotherapy, Doak said.

It wasn’t immediately clear how the new regulations will affect other hospitals in Maine. Jeffrey Austin, vice president of government affairs and communications at the Maine Hospital Association, said that his organization does not track upcoming projects.

Mark Miller, who now works in the School of Pharmacy at Husson College and formerly served as the director of pharmacy services at St. Joseph Healthcare in Bangor, said the new rules will also affect other parts of the supply chain for pharmaceuticals, such as how they’re shipped.

But the biggest changes will limit how much exposure workers can have to substances that are deemed to be hazardous, he said. For example, he said the new rules will probably require better ventilation of the areas where drug compounds are stored and prepared.

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