by Chris Chase
Coastal Journal staff
BRUNSWICK — The latest chapter in the ongoing clash between Midcoast Health Services, Parkview Adventist Medical Center, and Central Maine Health Corporation (CMHC) has been written. A public hearing was held by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) on October 24, and dozens of people came forward to give their testimony for and against CMHC’s proposed Certificate of Need (CON) to take over Parkview.
Over 200 people were in attendance, highlighting the strong interest the area has in the ongoing issue.
Typically, a public hearing for a CON has a much smaller turnout, according to Chuck Gill, the current vice president for public affairs at CMHC. But the number of people at this hearing didn’t surprise him do to the communities investment in the issue.
“No, I’m not surprised at all,” said Gill.
The issue has received a great deal of press and has been the subject of ad campaigns in local papers for weeks, leading to a great deal of interest in the final outcome.
Gill felt a lot of the comments that had come from the community, calling CMHC a stranger coming in to take over, were unfounded and unfair to CMHC.
“We’ve been here for 10 years,” said Gill. “We’re not an outsider.”
CMHC and Parkview have indeed been working together in various aspects for 10 years, a fact that, according to Randy Reynolds, President and CEO of Parkview, led to their initial interest in allowing CMHC to take administrative control of Parkview.
“It was a no-brainer for the board to select CMHC,” said Reynolds.
They also objected to the accusations some members of the audience made that healthcare in the community would be shipped to Lewiston, because they feel that currently moving patients to a larger hospital is the norm across the county, when smaller hospitals don’t have the equipment or experts that only extremely large hospitals can afford. Keeping every aspect of care in the community would be impossible considering the nature of high-level specialized care.
“The same thing happens at Mid Coast,” said Gill “There’s people transferred over every day for higher level care.”
The higher-ups of Mid Coast were also in attendance, and gave their own presentations for what they believe the effects if the proposal put out by CMHC would be. Their presentations offered the stance they have been taking for weeks, that their own proposal is superior and that allowing CMHC into the community would be bad news.
Although the public’s comments were limited to five minutes in order to keep things moving, it didn’t stop many from pouring their hearts out about the issue.
Terry Olsen, a resident of Durham, gave heart-felt testimony about her negative experience at Parkview, and how she felt the proposal by CMHC would greatly affect the quality of the care given to patients.
“I feel that having an outside hospital does not provide good care,” said Olsen. She supports the plan proposed by Mid Coast due to a bad experience she had with her father when he had a severe illness.
Smith Climo of Southport, a member of the St. Andrews Task Force, a group fighting to keep their own hospital in the Boothbay region open, came out to speak to the public and urged them to use their heads as emotions ran strong in response to a lot of the comments. He pointed out the literal separation the two sides had formed at the hearing and asked for more civility.
“You folks need to each other,” said Climo. “You’re better off with two hospitals than no hospital. This isn’t the Hatfields and McCoys. You want what’s best for your community.”
The one thing that officials of both parties seemed to agree on was the general misunderstanding of the public in regards to the issue at hand, and felt that a lot of the testimony, although heart-felt and valuable in its own way, missed the point.
“People aren’t really focused on the issue at hand,” said Gill. “What’s being discussed is the CON for CMHC.”
The DHHS officials present were repeatedly forced to remind people that Mid Coast’s plan was not under consideration and that the matter at hand was the validity of CMHC’s proposal, and had nothing to do with the level of care either hospital offered.
Steve Trockman, the Director of Community Relations and Outreach for Mid Coast, wasn’t surprised that a lot of what the public commented on didn’t have much to do with the issue on the table at the hearing. Most of what was highlighted in the public’s comments had to do with the quality of the care they received and what they saw through personal experience.
In reality, both sides feel in many ways that the quality of care is a bit of a moot point between the two hospitals, as both sides agree that their counterparts offer excellent care.
“CMHC have never criticized the care at Mid Coast,” said Gill.
Jay Mullen, a physician at Mid Coast, said the same way of Parkview, and said he even feels that their preventative care was actually better than their own, something the board of directors for Mid Coast recognized at their meeting.
“The level of respect they had for Parkview is phenomenal,” said Mullen.
Neither side seemed all that shocked that most of the public commented on personal experience rather than the issue at hand.
“When you’re seeking public comment, that’s what people know,” said Trockman.
Few people deal with the finances of hospitals, and most people will only see the care end of the business and not the challenges involved in running it.
“The average citizen doesn’t have a strong understanding of the micro and macroeconomics involved in the healthcare system,” said Trockman.
With the current healthcare issue in the community involving multiple levels of administration, funding, and information, sorting through the miasma of conflicting opinion and data is something that the average person simply doesn’t have the time or highly specific knowledge required to fully grasp the issue.
“It is complicated,” said Trockman.
Mullen said he felt that although the math and concepts behind the proposals of both CMHC and Mid Coast are complicated, the overall issue is simple.
“The current system is not sustainable,” said Mullen. “We’ve got to cut about 25 percent of our healthcare costs.”
Each hospital is offering its own vision for the change, but until the DHHS makes its decision on CMHC’s CON, which won’t occur for at least a month, the issue isn’t going to go away. Even then, which way the decision falls could prolong the issue for months or even years to come.
Currently, the DHHS is weighing the decision. They will be accepting written public comments for 30 days after the initial public hearing.