Changes that will convert St. Andrews from hospital to healthcare center were unanimously approved last week.
MaineHealth, the parent organization for Lincoln County Healthcare, which runs St. Andrews Hospital in Boothbay Harbor and Miles Memorial Hospital in Damariscotta, approved a plan that will close the St. Andrews ER at their Aug. 2 meeting. The changes will take effect April 2013.
In an address to board members at that meeting, Boothbay Town Manager Jim Chaousis asked for two months to allow time for community engagement. MaineHealth was not persuaded.
MaineHealth Executive Vice President Frank McGinty said the MaineHealth Board always gives great weight to member organization’s recommendations. “While we retain final authority, it would be highly unusual not to accept the board’s recommendations,” McGinty said.
Chaousis said he was disappointed with the decision but will work with Lincoln County Healthcare in the coming months.
Community outreach begins
With approval in hand, Lincoln County Healthcare turned their attention to public outreach.
In addition to sending explanatory letters to all Boothbay peninsula residents, Lincoln County Healthcare announced that they will convene a community transition committee to help work through the changes ahead.
Meetings with Boothbay Region Ambulance Service, which will have to gear up for longer transports, have also begun.
On Aug. 3, Lincoln County Healthcare held a series of informational meetings with local legislators, St. Andrews Village residents, St. Andrews Auxiliary members and Lincoln County Healthcare’s advisory board. At each meeting, Lincoln County Healthcare administrators and doctors recounted a history of declining patient use, increasing patient reliance on Medicare and MaineCare and the negative effects of these trends on finances, healthcare costs and patient care.
Hospital administrators said current use patterns at St. Andrews emergency room, outpatient surgery and nursing wing were unsustainable from both a financial and staffing viewpoint and had the potential to affect the quality of care.
Throughout the day residents asked questions about the future of healthcare locally and how Lincoln County Healthcare’s decision will affect patients and the community. Criticism of Lincoln County Healthcare for not involving the community in the decision was a consistent theme of each informational session.
State Rep. Bruce MacDonald captured the sentiments of many early in the day. “Not enough was done to inform the community,” MacDonald said. “This process has broken a bond between the community and the hospital. The feeling is this was done behind closed doors.”
St. Andrews Village resident Sue Bogart wondered about broad effects on the retirement community. “There are lots of empty apartments and cottages here (at St. Andrews Village). Without a hospital do you think people will move to these cottages?”
St. Andrews Village Marketing Director Wendy Roberts said her focus would be on what the community has, not what it has lost. “Many people from away are not used to living with a hospital five miles away. We will make sure people know what we have here and how good it is,” Roberts said.
Some, like Boothbay Harbor resident Denise Griffin, expressed support for the plan and for the need to curb healthcare spending and costs. “I think the plan is a good one and we need to rally around it.”
Although they, too, had questions, St. Andrews Auxiliary members voiced their continued support for local healthcare and encouraged Lincoln County Healthcare to increase public outreach to offset rumors. Since 1952 the Auxiliary has raised millions of dollars for St. Andrews Hospital and local healthcare.
At their meeting with Lincoln County Healthcare, Auxiliary members remained upbeat. “We’re common sense Mainers and when it means dollars and cents and services, we get it,” Linda Redman said.
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