Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

Updated: April 16, 2024

Millinocket hospital closes walk-in clinic, but says ER expansion is on — despite delay

Millinocket Regional Hospital, the only such health care provider within a 30-mile radius, has closed its walk-in care center, saying it can't find enough staffing.

Robert Peterson, CEO of the 25-bed critical access hospital, told Mainebiz on Monday, "The center will be closed indefinitely while we recruit and re-evaluate the operation."

"It is a provider staffing issue," he said. "We staffed the center with two full-time providers. One provider recently retired and the other resigned to work elsewhere. With both leaving virtually together, that left no time to recruit replacements.

"Walk-in clinics must be staffed and consistently open. Reliability and predictability are keys to success — they cannot be open some days and closed others."

MRH Walk-In Care, at 87 Main St., receives about 2,500 patient visits a year, according to Peterson. Millinocket, in the Katahdin region of Penobscot County, has a population of 4,100.

Courtesy / MRH via Facebook
Millinocket Regional Hospital is bracing for an "influx" of emergency care patients, now that a walk-in clinic has closed indefinitely.

Without the ambulatory clinic, the hospital has said it now expects an "influx" of patients coming to its emergency department — which usually treats patients with more serious, more acute needs.

And the department is already stretched thin.

In fact, Millinocket Regional has long been planning a $14.5 million expansion of the ED, increasing its size from 4,800 square feet to 10,400 square feet and doubling the number of treatment rooms from five to 10.

The plans also call for an overflow area to handle surges in patient volume, like those the hospital experienced during the pandemic.

As part of the build-out, MRH began the process of obtaining a certificate of need for the project from the Maine Department of Health and Human. That approval is necessary for most capital projects at hospitals, and Millinocket Regional notified the state of the expansion plans in January 2023.

Since then, however, there's been little progress. Last fall, Millinocket Regional received a $3.5 million federal grant for the site work, but hadn't moved ahead with the certificate application. Last month, DHHS notified the hospital that its letter-of-intent for the project had expired, and that going forward with the expansion would require a new letter and a restart of the review process.

On Monday, Peterson said he's eager to move forward with the project, despite the delay.

"I will be filing a new letter-of-intent this week and an application shortly thereafter," he said. He also pointed out that MRH has recently received more than $9.8 million in additional federal funds, which will pay for the "vast majority" of the project.

"We now have more solidified plans and the numbers are more defined than when the original letter of intent was filed ... This project has certainly not been canceled but rather, it is moving forward nicely."

Until the new emergency care space is built, however, Millinocket Regional is monitoring patient volumes and hoping for the best.

Peterson said there's no telling when MRH will have staff to reopen the walk-in clinic.

"Recruitment for providers is very difficult right now across the state and across the country," he told Mainebiz. "It’s difficult to predict any defendable timeline."

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF