Central Maine Healthcare President and CEO Jeff Brickman points to cranes and construction work in Lewiston next to the main lobby of Central Maine Medical Center, in this August 2018 file photo. The construction was part of $6 million in investments to upgrade and expand the health care system. Credit: Lori Valigra / BDN

Jeff Brickman, the turnaround expert who returned Central Maine Healthcare to profitability within two years of his start there in 2016 despite no-confidence votes from workers, told hospital leaders Thursday that he would retire from full-time leadership as of September.

The announcement comes one day after a state board recommended rejecting the hospital system’s hoped-for expansion in Topsham.

Brickman, 65, the president and CEO of the three-hospital system, came under fire for what some saw as his abrupt and abrasive manner. Brickman faced and then survived three no-confidence votes in July 2018, one from each of the hospitals in the health care system: Rumford Hospital, Bridgton Hospital and Central Maine Medical Center, one of Lewiston’s largest employers.

The following year also was rough, when Central Maine Medical Center saw a regulatory review threaten Medicaid payments and citizens challenge the ownership of Bridgton Hospital.

Despite the undertow, Brickman had the support of the hospital system’s board to continue with plans to add and replace staff, raise wages, update programs, repair dilapidated infrastructure, replace old machinery and expand services.

Brickman steadily grew revenues and patient numbers and expanded services. When he joined Central Maine Healthcare in the fall of 2016, the hospital already was losing $2 million to $3 million each month and only had 39 days of cash on hand.

Brickman had experience turning around five other hospital systems in the United States. By July 2018, he already had stemmed much of the red ink that had mired the Lewiston-based hospital group.

His strategy was to expand into local markets, including a walk-in clinic in Bridgton and an urgent care center in Lewiston. He also said in 2019 that the hospital group planned to invest $32 million into a new cancer center slated to open in 2022.

However, a state board on Wednesday recommended rejecting the hospital system’s effort to build a $14 million ambulatory surgical center in Topsham, saying the hospital did not demonstrate the economic feasibility or public need for the center, which met with heavy local resistance, according to the Times Record. The hospital system suspended its application process and plans to resume it later this year.

Steven Littleson, current senior vice president of operations and president of Central Maine Medical Center, will become interim president and CEO of the healthcare system on July 19 until the board announces a permanent replacement for Brickman, who will serve as an advisor to the board and to Littleson.

Brickman’s 41-year hospital career began as a child when he accompanied his grandfather, a doctor, on house calls. Current and former hospital board members praised Brickman’s leadership.

“Jeff has positioned the organization well for the future and has guided us through some extraordinary times,” said Deborah Dunlap Avasthi, former board chair at Central Maine Healthcare.

Correction: A state board recommended against Central Maine Healthcare’s request for a surgery center. An earlier version of this story incorrectly described that decision. An earlier version also had the wrong age for Brickman. He is 65.