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May 21, 2018

Houlton hospital making headway in reducing its debt

Houlton Regional Hospital is facing difficult decisions as it continues to reduce its debt at the same time that it confronts significant challenges faced by rural hospitals across Maine.

The County reported that the hospital is looking at ways to keep lab services in-house despite rising costs and has started to be proactive in up-front payment for some procedures. Due to bad debt expense, the hospital lost $3.5 million in 2013, and has been digging out of that the last five years, CEO Tom Moakler told the newspaper.

The challenge that smaller hospitals face, Moakler said, is that as its prices go up local patients may begin to seek services elsewhere at private labs or large hospitals. That, in turn, reduces the hospital's cash flow.

Despites its challenges, Moakler told The County that the hospital plays an important role in the regional economy.

"We provide a variety of services in this area and are a significant employer," he said. "And we hope to get continuing support from the community."

Other rural hospitals face similar issues. As Mainebiz reported last September, due to low patient volume Calais Regional closed its obstetric unit in August 2017 — a reflection of the challenges rural health care providers are grappling with throughout Maine.

Those challenges occur on various fronts that include financial issues, remote geography and shifting demographics, and they're threatening services within facilities or the existence of facilities themselves.

Most recently, Calais Regional in April announced on its website that it planned to suspend its "infusion services department" as part of its ongoing effort to control costs. At the time, the Maine State Nurses Association, representing unionized nurses in Maine, said it was an example of how decisions made by top management at Calais Regional were hurting local people, the Bangor Daily News reported.

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