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BLUE HILL, Maine — Northern Light Blue Hill hospital will discontinue its surgical services within the next few weeks due to a declining number of surgical patients.
No date has been set.
The four surgeons employed at Blue Hill are also on staff at Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital of Ellsworth and will continue to work there. The 13 surgical staff members who support them will move to Ellsworth or another hospital within the Northern Light Health system if they choose to, said John Ronan, who is president of both the Ellsworth and Blue Hill facilities, located 15 miles apart.
The move is among several 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 larger through a pending merger with Mayo Regional Hospital in Dover-Foxcroft.
Ronan said the move will offer a greater range of services for Hancock County patients and more enticing working conditions for surgeons and medical staff. It is not a layoff or designed to improve the bottom line of the Ellsworth hospital at the expense of the Blue Hill facility, he said.
“Since we weren’t doing [emergency] surgeries now [at Blue Hill] and the elective surgeries can be rescheduled, I don’t think this will be a large impact to the community,” Ronan said. “It’s an emotional impact for sure. No one wants to lose services, but patients are going to have greater access to services at Maine Coast.”
“At this point we are not looking at any other service resources to be cut,” said.
The Blue Hill hospital eliminated its obstetrics unit a decade ago.
And earlier this year, both the Blue Hill and Ellsworth stopped directly employing the doctors who staff their emergency departments and doctors known as hospitalists, who provide a wide range of care to admitted patients. A Tennessee company, TeamHealth, now employs those doctors. The Northern Light system said it opted for that arrangement to find efficiencies and make staffing costs more predictable.
Blue Hill, which had an $88 million operating budget, finished the last fiscal year on Sept. 30 with a $2 million gain. Maine Coast, which had a $296 million budget, finished with an operating loss of slightly more than $3 million, Ronan said.
However, as of May, both hospitals are in the black and on course to finish the fiscal year with a combined $4 million surplus, Ronan said.
Between 2013 and 2017, the five most recent years for which data are available from the Maine Health Data Organization, the Ellsworth hospital consistently posted negative operating margins, while the Blue Hill hospital operated in the black.
Ronan and hospital spokeswoman Kelley Columber said they did not have the number of surgeries performed at Blue Hill or Ellsworth immediately available.
Blue Hill will no longer offer surgical services in the fields of urology, women’s health, orthopedics and general surgery. It will also stop offering colonoscopies. Ellsworth, which has 12 surgeons, offers those services plus otorhinolaryngology (ear, nose and throat), caesarean and joint surgeries, Ronan said.