The months-long effort by Central Maine Healthcare to restructure its presence in Bridgton, where it runs Bridgton Hospital, in the face of a community group advocating that someone else run the hospital, played out Tuesday night in a crowded select board chambers.
The public airing from both sides will not result in action by Bridgton’s select board.
After getting a letter from the Pondicherry Group in January asking the board take a no confidence vote in the health care organization and support an affiliation with Portland-based MaineHealth, selectman Chairman Liston Eastman said the board can’t “publicly support a private business.”
But he invited the groups to speak.
Peter Wright, the new president of Bridgton and Rumford hospitals, as well as Jeff Brickman, CEO of Central Maine Healthcare, Tuesday night spelled out the local challenges and how the organization is approaching them in the rapidly changing health care atmosphere.
“We have to do what most folks are not ready to,” said Wright, who starts his new job in March.
He said combining services, part of a strategic plan by CMH, will improve care.
Besides the two hospitals, the Lewiston-based health care organization owns Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, several satellite facilities, and the new Topsham Care Center, which combines urgent care, diagnostic and lab services.
Pondicherry Group members, said, however, the health care organization shouldn’t be in charge of the region’s health options in light of staff departures and what they say are diminishing health care options.
While the three members who spoke Tuesday said they are not advocating the hospital be sold, the letters the group sent to 13 towns ask that the governing boards “support a vote of no-confidence regarding Central Maine Healthcare’s ownership and management of its Lakes Region health care assets (i.e. Bridgton Hospital, Primary Care Offices…etc.).
It also asks the towns to “support our proposed request that Central Maine Healthcare divest its ownership in said assets” to either “a locally owned and managed not-for-profit health care holding company which will establish management, operations and financial affiliations with MaineHealth” or directly to Portland-based MaineHealth.
The meeting comes after months of turmoil for Central Maine Health in Bridgton and Rumford, where staff took a no-confidence vote in Brickman in August, and the board of directors reaffirmed its support for Brickman. David Frum, president of the two hospitals, resigned the next day.
The hospital, since summer, has been forming a strategic plan for Bridgton and Rumford, and recently announced it’s opening a walk-in clinic in Bridgton, which will offer primary care and lab services, and be the first of several "accessible care options" for Lake Region patients.
Wright Tuesday told selectmen that “three different medical teams in three different communities” is not sustainable.
Before Wright spoke, Brickman told the packed room, that he understood people are upset and that they have the right to be.
He said the hospital did lose providers “for many reasons – some of which might surprise you.”
But added that the organization underestimated the impact that “the level and pace of change was having on our staff, providers and community.”
He said the health care organization, “could have communicated more effectively” with with patients, staff, providers and the community. “And have been working hard to do just that,” he said.
But he added that “misleading and inaccurate information about the status of Bridgton Hospital” that’s been shared publicly “has only served to demoralize the staff, denigrate the excellent patient care and health services provided every day and add to the anxiety felt by many in the community.”
And he reiterated what CMH officials have been saying since word got out two weeks ago that the group had sent the letters to towns.
“Bridgton Hospital is not closing. And it is not for sale,” he said. “Central Maine Healthcare is committed to this community and we fully intend to provide the quality care and services you deserve well into the future. We can’t go back – we can only move forward.”
‘In its letter, the group says, “We have concluded that Central Maine Healthcare’s actions have seriously damaged access-to-care and the quality of care for the populations of Harrison and the entire Lakes Region. We believe this situation is both critical and unacceptable.”
Pondicherry Group members who spoke Tuesday were less specific than the letter’s proposal of affiliation with MaineHealth, said that they aren’t pushing for the hospital to be sold.
“We’re not advocating for the sale of the hospital,” said David Welbourne, but advocating “for change.”
Member Cathy Finck laid out several scenarios for integrating with other health care systems, including Northern Light, based in Bangor.
“We’re just a group of people who live in the community” who care about health care, she said. “We don’t own anything, we’re just community folks brainstorming ideas.”
Finck said that since the group formed six months ago, Brickman hasn’t answered its questions, including about its recruitment efforts and strategic plan.
“Trust has eroded,” she said.
All three members of Pondicherry who spoke — Finck, Welbourn and Dani Mooney — reiterated they are not pushing for the hospital to be sold.
“We’re here to support the community,” Mooney said. “It’s not about whose name is on the hospital.”
Welbourne said Tuesday that other key members of the group are James Cossey, and Rob Slattery.
Slattery joined CMH in March 2017 to guide business development at the Bridgton and Rumford hospitals. Slattery, who owns Allons!Health, a Bridgton-based advisory and health care solutions company, left CMH in July after 16 months with the company.
He was apparently who CMH Executive Vice President David Tupponce was referring to recently when he said the anti-CMH movement was being led by “a disgruntled former employee.”
While Slattery wasn’t at Tuesday’s meeting, Welbourne said he’s “most definitely not a disgruntled employee,” but a Bridgton resident who’s concerned about health care in the community.
Despite difficulties of the past year, both Bridgton and Rumford hospitals were among seven in Maine and 17 nationally in 2018 to be named a Top Rural Hospital by the Leapfrog Group, an independent hospital watchdog association.
Wright said that improvements are on the way, and compared the atmosphere in Bridgton with the one he took on at Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont, N.H., where during his six-year tenure he was able recruit a “great team” of medical professionals and change the culture to “something to be proud of.”
When his departure in New Hampshire was announced in January, Valley Regional’s board said Wright was credited with the implementation of an operational recovery plan for the hospital “that produced a strong improvement for each of the last four fiscal years and worked to strengthen community relationships, and put into place a leadership team, the New Hampshire Union Leader reported.
“We are grateful for his significant accomplishments that have led Valley Regional back to a position of financial and operational stability,” Patricia Putnam, board chair-elect said.
Wright told selectmen Tuesday that he’s learned that “the most powerful...is just being present.”
He said that he will be as CMH’s plan for Bridgton and Rumford develops, and that while it’s “in the works,” it’s a community effort.
“It all will take time, but we can’t do it alone,” he said