MILO, Maine — Mayo Regional Hospital officials and area legislators told community members Thursday night that the region’s citizens will be able to participate in the decision-making process for the proposed merger between the hospital in Dover-Foxcroft and Northern Light Health, a system composed of hospitals across Maine.
Non-binding town meeting votes on the plan are scheduled across a dozen Hospital Administrative District 4 communities from April 20 to 30 to help area legislators make a decision on submitting a bill to amend the hospital district charter to pave the way for a merger. More information is available at mayohospitalfacts.org.
About 50 people gathered at the Penquis Valley School for the final of four public forums on the merger heard Rep. Norman Higgins, I-Dover-Foxcroft say that he; Reps. Paul Stearns, R-Guilford, and Steven Foster, R-Dexter; and Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, began meeting with Mayo Regional Hospital officials in November as well as meeting with other legislators in Augusta to consider the deal.
“It will take legislation to enact this merger, I think everyone has come to that conclusion,” Higgins said. He said the delegation would like to see that services would still be provided in the region post-merger, “we wanted Mayo to conduct public meetings,” and “we believe since this district was formed by a vote of these communities this vote should be at town meeting where debate takes place.”
“As legislators we’ve been reluctant to submit legislation for the merger until we know what the public opinions are,” Higgins said. “Because it is your hospital we want to be respectful of your opinions and help instruct us in the direction we want to proceed.”
The four legislators were present and said they support improving public health care. “I think it is important to think what health care will look like for all of us the next 10 to 15-years,” Higgins said.
Davis said a bill has been submitted in Augusta requiring the HAD 4 communities hold town meetings to provide advisory opinions, and a vote on the bill is set for April 22. “We don’t feel comfortable at all doing this without the people telling us what they want,” he said.
“I think for us legislators we are going to need a significantly positive vote to put any legislation forward,” Davis said. When asked, the state senator said he was unsure of how the voting data would be weighed by the legislators.
“We’re interested in looking at the broad spectrum of the 13 towns,” Higgins said. “There are a number of factors that we will look at and then we will make a value judgement at that point.”
He mentioned the previous week the Dexter Town Council gave its approval to the plan on behalf of the community. How this result by the seven councilors will provide guidance along with the decisions made potentially by dozens of attendees at a dozen special town meetings is something the legislators will still need to consider.
“The charter calls for a vote in each town but it only pertains to dissolving, it says nothing about a merger,” Davis said.
Language pertaining to a merger would need to be added to the HAD 4 charter and any amendments would need to be passed in the Legislature. The town votes will help the legislative delegation determine whether or not to submit legislation to change the HAD 4 charter to pave the way for the merger.
“We are only working on a bill that requires towns to have a vote,” Foster said. “Then, depending on the result, we will look at what we are going to do, and there will be another bill going through to change the charter.”
With the exception of Dexter with its town council, all the HAD 4 member communities have a selectmen/town meeting form of government, and the bill is asking that citizens make a decision on the merger through a town meeting vote.
Dover-Foxcroft has its annual town meeting the morning of Saturday, April 27, so this item was added to the warrant, while the other 11 communities will hold special town meetings to make a decision. Each will be able to decide at the meeting whether to make the vote by a show of hands or via written ballot.
“The second bill only happens after this first bill takes place,” Northern Light Health Deputy General Counsel George Eaton said.
In February directors of HAD 4, the quasi-municipal entity that owns and oversees the hospital, voted 15-3 to proceed toward a merger agreement. Last month, Northern Light directors unanimously approved the merger. Those involved have cited finances and a continuation of services as key reasons for pursuing the merger.
HAD 4 Board Chair Amanda Thomas of Guilford said the district is the last of its kind in Maine, founded in 1974 by the Legislature with 11 member communities and now at 13 with the addition of Dexter and Milo. Thomas said the board of directors has 19 members representing each of the 13 towns.
“If we don’t do anything there is no guarantee we will have a hospital in five years,” said HAD 4 Board Treasurer D. Jensen Bissell of Milo. “We think this is the best option for health care.”