by Chris Chase
Coastal Journal staff
BOOTHBAY — Hundreds of residents from the Boothbay region turned up at the St. Andrews Task Force’s meeting on Nov. 20, which was held to inform the community of their current progress in combating the shifting of St. Andrew’s emergency room into an urgent care center, a move that would legally bar ambulances from bringing patients to the hospital.
The meeting, held at the Boothbay Region Elementary School, was the first chance for the community to meet the two experts hired by the task force to look into the issue and develop data for the task force’s negotiations with Lincoln County Health Care (LCHC), the organization that has decided to close St. Andrew’s emergency room between midnight and 6 a.m., during which time the facility would be operated as an urgent care center.
Julius Ciembroniewicz, the lawyer hired by the task force group, addressed the crowd on the legal paths they could pursue if the task force fails to get LCHC to compromise.
“My role is to help the communities provide good information to MaineHealth and LCHC, so working together, they can hopefully make a better decision,” said Ciembroniewicz.
Although Ciembroniewicz assured the audience that he believed there are possible legal avenues to take in case talks break down, he urged the task force to find an alternative solution before court action became necessary.
Ralph Gabbaro of iVantage consulting services was also at the meeting to discuss the work he has been doing for the task force. Like Ciembroniewicz, Gabbaro offered little in the way of solutions, mainly due to the short amount of time he has had to gather data on the issue.
“Tonight is not a night for conclusions. It’s a night for me to talk about progress,” said Gabbaro. “Our charge is to look at Boothbay and look at our options.”
For many members of the audience, the issue was whether or not the task force will have enough time to reach a solution, considering the upcoming closure will take place in April 2013.
“There is time,” said Gabbaro. “But if we’re going to avoid a legal approach, it is going to take the desire of Maine Health, Lincoln County Health Care, and other governing bodies.”
Funding for the consulting services the task force has hired to support their efforts has come from numerous donations, which have so far raised tens of thousands of dollars from concerned community members, including a $25,000 donation from Paul Coulombe.
In addition to the consulting services directly hired by the task force, volunteers have also been gathering a vast amount of data doing their own research. Patricia Seybold of the Patricia Seybold Group has personally interviewed 48 members of the community and assembled a large packet of testimony from people who have been helped at the St. Andrew’s emergency room.
Building off of the interviews, Andrew Twaddle, who holds a PhD and is a resident of Edgecomb, took all of the information presented in the interviews and assembled a large collection of data addressing the current issue.
The real goal of the task force as of now is to acquire a large volume of data that can be used in arguments against the plan to close the ER.
Currently, LCHC has determined that the ER services offered by St. Andrews are not viable in their current form, due to a lack of demand for patients. The issue, at heart, is less about money and more about service.
According to Scott Shott, the vice president of community relations for LCHC, St. Andrews receives an average of one patient every two days during the hours that the emergency services would no longer be available, and that the issue has less to do with money and more to do with worries about the quality of care that the hospital can offer.
“This is not about money,” said Shott. “It’s a lot more about so few people going to the hospital. It has to do with the comfort of the physicians.”
With a low volume of patients being received by the emergency services, the worry is that the physicians and nurses on staff won’t see the kinds of injuries and situations they need to be able to react to very often. Without regular exposure to certain injuries, physicians worry that a lack of practice will leave them unable to provide the level of care that they want to maintain.
Even with these obstacles, Smith Climo, a member of the task force, has remained optimistic about the future of St. Andrews.
“We’re going to turn the tide on this. That’s my hope and my belief,” said Climo.
Climo has been impressed by the amount of effort that the community has put into the project, and feels it is a strong indication of the community’s desire to find a comfortable solution.
“We’ve brought all of this together in three months. We’ve got quality information, we’ve got some of the best minds in the State,” said Climo. “What this community has done, you need to walk out of here feeling proud.”