At least eight doctors are resigning from Bangor’s Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center amid a push by the hospital to reduce their ranks, cut their benefits and have fewer doctors work each day, forcing those on duty to see more patients in a shift.
The resignations also come as doctors from departments across the Bangor hospital have criticized management for sidelining them from recent major decisions. Those doctors recently told managers and board members of the hospital’s parent organization, Northern Light Health, that doctors’ morale is at an “all-time low” and that there could be a “mass exodus” if things don’t improve.
The tensions have emerged as Northern Light leaders make a variety of changes to standardize compensation and operations across the $1.76 billion Northern Light health care system, which has grown in recent years to include nine hospitals stretching from Portland to Presque Isle. Northern Light is poised to grow even more through a merger in the works with Mayo Regional Hospital in Dover-Foxcroft.
The eight who have submitted their resignations since the beginning of March belong to a group of about 45 physicians called hospitalists, who provide a wide range of care to admitted patients.
Their resignations will start to take effect in the middle of the summer and have come as their group has been negotiating a new contract with EMMC’s administrators that would eliminate their paid time off.
But more departures could be coming. A hospitalist who still works at EMMC said at least 12 hospitalists have decided to resign in recent weeks.
A Northern Light Health spokeswoman confirmed the eight departures and attributed them to normal turnover.
But even eight resignations would take away almost a fifth of the hospitalist group and be unprecedented, according to Dr. James Westhoven, a hospitalist who resigned at the end of March and said he can’t remember a time in his 16 years at EMMC when more than about five hospitalists left in short succession.
‘Handed to us as a done deal’
Westhoven and the current hospitalist — who did not want to be identified out of fear that speaking publicly could lead to repercussions from the hospital — both attributed the departures to the changes EMMC leaders have made since late last year.
They’re the reason that Westhoven, 72, decided to resign in March rather than retire at the end of the year, as he had previously been planning to do.
“This was just handed to us as a done deal,” Westhoven said. “I realized I can’t take part in this wholesale dismantling. It’s really hard to work with staff who are demoralized. They just are fed up with the things that have been done to them over the last six months.”
Early this year, the hospitalists were told that they would be reclassified as shift-based workers and lose all of their paid time off, while other types of doctors at EMMC either lost lesser amounts or even gained paid time off. That has meant they must work more weeks each year for no extra pay.
Since last fall, EMMC has also reduced the number of hospitalists who work each day by about four, according to the one who still works there.