Between 300 and 400 people filled half the gym at Boothbay Region Elementary School in Boothbay Harbor August 22 to vent their frustrations on how the decision to close St. Andrews Hospital's emergency room was reached and to offer ideas on how to remedy the situation.
The nearly two-hour meeting, organized by the Boothbay Board of Selectmen and attended by representatives of the boards of selectmen from Boothbay Harbor, Southport and Edgecomb, concluded with the gathered selectmen voting unanimously to form a task force to study what can be done to maintain a hospital and 24-hour emergency room on the peninsula.
Edgecomb's lone selectman at the meeting, Stuart Smith, successfully argued that two weeks is too long to wait to start organizing the task force. “Time is of the essence,” Smith said.
As for State Rep. Bruce MacDonald's proposed bill to let the towns form their own hospital, Smith said the concept is “worth exploring, at the very least.”
Following Smith's remark, his counterparts from the peninsula's other three towns agreed to each pick a member of their boards to meet again on Wednesday, Aug. 29, to get plans underway. In an interview afterward, Smith said he will volunteer to be the Edgecomb selectmen's representative at that meeting.
Smith expects the Edgecomb board to easily pass a planned resolution among the towns in support of forming the task force.
Smith said he “absolutely” wants St. Andrews' emergency room to stay open. The hospital currently serves about half of Edgecomb, with Miles Memorial Hospital serving the rest of town, he said.
Only a couple of hands went up when Edgecomb residents were asked to show themselves; the selectman appeared to make up about one-third of the Edgecomb turnout in the crowd of hundreds.
One of those hands was Sue LaPlaca's. She formerly worked in housekeeping for Lincoln County Healthcare. “It's important that we keep a hospital on this peninsula, for economic reasons and for public safety reasons. We're really looking at a huge blow, should we not have one,” she said before the meeting started. “We've lost our fishing community. We need to keep our retirement community."
Although Edgecomb residents could have other options for hospitals geographically speaking, one of them, MidCoast Hospital in Brunswick, would be difficult to get to quickly if there are traffic tie-ups on Route 1, LaPlaca said.
Edgecomb resident Marissa Carmolli used to be a lab manager at St. Andrews. After sitting through the meeting, she was “hopeful” the hospital will remain. She said hospital management "picked a fight with the wrong people. There are a lot of strong-willed people here."
Connie Machon, a Boothbay Harbor summer resident, and her sister Sharon Barter of Boothbay Harbor both grew up in Edgecomb. “We're very concerned that the emergency room is going to close,” Machon said.
Jan Stephens is spending her 53rd summer in the Boothbay area. She said the outcome of the hospital situation will probably impact “how long I will spend here in the summer” in future years. She also predicted the changes at St. Andrews would have a ripple effect on local businesses.
Linda Laweryson of Waldoboro was a registered nurse at St. Andrews for six years “and I know the care was excellent,” she said. “We need to keep our little hospital here.”
For more on changes at St. Andrews, read our series: