2013-10-17 / News

Hospital merger brings changes in service

By Ben Meiklejohn Staff Writer

Southern Maine Medical Center will merge with Goodall Hospital in January to be officially called Southern Maine Health Center. Between the two institutions, the new center will offer services in facilities across the county, including Biddeford, East Waterboro, Kennebunk, Old Orchard Beach Saco, and Sanford. (Molly Lovell- Keely photo) Southern Maine Medical Center will merge with Goodall Hospital in January to be officially called Southern Maine Health Center. Between the two institutions, the new center will offer services in facilities across the county, including Biddeford, East Waterboro, Kennebunk, Old Orchard Beach Saco, and Sanford. (Molly Lovell- Keely photo) BIDDEFORD – Southern Maine Medical Center and Goodall Hospital will merge Jan. 1, to become the Southern Maine Health Center.

The two hospitals have been planning several years for the merger and, on Oct. 1, 2012, a holding company was formed to combine their assets.

Officials from both hospitals spoke at several forums over the past few months to educate the public about how the merger will affect services.

The hospitals were both founded by men who had strong connections to mill communities. Moses Webber, who ran mills in both Biddeford and Manchester, N.H., founded Webber Hospital in 1899, which later became Southern Maine Medical Center; Sanford mill owner George Goodall started Henrietta D. Goodall Hospital in 1928.

Ed McGeachey, president and chief executive officer of Southern Maine Medical Center, lives in Saco and has worked in the area for 43 years.

He said the merger would help both hospitals provide services more cost efficiently, and reduce overhead and administrative expenses.

“It will also help stabilize health care services in Sanford, which has been blessed with a lot of services in that community,” McGeachey said.

After the merger, McGeachey will be president and chief executive officer of the Southern Maine Health Center. Patsy Aprile, currently president and chief executive officer of Goodall Hospital, will be chief operating officer for the center’s Sanford campus.

Leslie Roberts, marketing and communications director for Southern Maine Medical Center said, “Some positions may be eliminated, although we do not anticipate this to be significant and we are doing everything we can to provide affected employees with other opportunities within the organization,” Roberts said.

Southern Maine Health Center will be the largest health care provider and employer in York County with 174 primary physician providers from Southern Maine Medical Center and 69 general physicians from Goodall Hospital.

McGeachey said a new board of trustees has been formed, comprised of 10 trustees that have been appointed by each hospital – six laypeople and four physicians.

Seven of the trustees are from the Kennebunk area. The 20 trustees have staggered 10-year terms, and will oversee a $252 million operating budget and 2,200 employees; salaries will total approximately $122 million. McGeachey said 592 of those employees live in Biddeford and Saco, and 262 live in the Kennebunk area.

Combined, the two hospitals offer health care services in 46 locations throughout the county, said McGeachey, including a new facility for general internal medicine at 46 Barra Road in Biddeford.

The structure will be named the Edward J. McGeachey Medical Office Building, in McGeachey’s honor. Construction for the building began last month.

Aprile said the merger will allow for more than $5 million in savings in the birthing center alone, which will be in Biddeford. The Sanford birthing center will be closed.

Aprile said $3 million in renovations would be needed to keep the birthing center in Sanford open, and by consolidating those services the renovations may be avoided.

Delivering birth services in one location will also save another $2.1 million. Aprile said many people in the Sanford region already go to Biddeford for birthing services.

Both hospitals will still provide emergency care, primary care and will invest in up-to-date facilities, technology and equipment, McGeachey said. The merger will also allow for an expansion of mental health services, which are “needed very badly,” he added.

According to Roberts, mental health services will be expanded to the Sanford area, at first through a telemental health program, which uses telecommunications technology, such as video conferencing to provide services.

Aprile said the two hospitals will be referred to as the Biddeford and Sanford campuses of the Southern Maine Health Center, but select services will continue to be offered at facilities in Old Orchard Beach, Saco and Kennebunk.

The sleep labs of the two hospitals will be consolidated into one facility in Kennebunk, which will have longer hours and be open six days a week.

There are a total of four facilities in Kennebunk where various services are offered, including family medicine, pediatrics, pulmonology, gatroenterology, orthopedics, therapy and pain medicine.

There are 177 employees who work in Kennebunk, including more than 20 physicians.

Roberts said some locations in Kennebunk may be consolidated, but no final decisions have been made.

Walk-in care services in Kennebunk will also be provided, although no timeline has been set to do so, she added.

McGeachey said $1.5 million in cuts from sequestration, $1.6 million in cuts from state funding for outpatient care and an additional $1 million in hospital taxes levied by the state have left the hospitals with $4.1 million less in available funds “for providing the same exact services.”

Additionally, free care and bad debts from patients have risen from $24 million in 2011 to $33 million in 2014, McGeachey said.

“We are obligated morally, or arguably legally, to take care of anybody who walks into our office,” McGeachey said.

By consolidating duplicated services and facilities, Mc- Geachey said the two institutions will literally save millions of dollars and be able to hold down the rising costs of health care. Additionally, the strengths and expertise of each hospital may be extended to help more people.

“For example, Goodall has very good pain management,” McGeachey said. “We can expand that to Biddeford.” While both hospitals have eldercare facilities, only Sanford has long-term elder care facilities, which may also be expanded to help more people, McGeachey said.

Aprile said Sanford has “struggled to have some specialists available,” and the merger will make specialists from Biddeford more readily available to patients in Sanford. Psychiatric services are also something that both hospitals need to invest in, she added.

“There is a shortage of psychiatrists in the state,” Aprile said.

McGeachey said the merger will allow Biddeford to add more primary care physicians.

“We can’t keep up with the need,” McGeachey said. “It’s the whole reason for the new building (at 46 Barra Road).”

At the forum in Biddeford, members from the audience asked questions about the possibility of merging with York Hospital, and the effects of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

McGeachey said, “The York Hospital is more of a part of the seacoast community – Portsmouth and Kittery – so they are conflicted. But we are having conversations.”

The Affordable Care Act is federal comprehensive health reform legislation that expands insurance coverage. Individuals who do not have health insurance by March, 31 could face a tax penalty of $95 or 1 percent of their income, whichever is higher.

The penalty will increase each year through 2016. By Jan. 1, 2015, employers of 50 or more people must also provide affordable, comprehensive health insurance to their employees or face a $2,000 penalty per employee.

Government-run health exchange marketplaces have been established for people who lack insurance or are looking for more affordable coverage. Enrollment in the health exchange opened Oct. 1 for coverage that will begin Jan. 1.

Aprile said, “When you look at the numbers of free care, we are already getting people that don’t have (health insurance). I believe (the Affordable Care Act) is a good thing because people will seek care.”

McGeachey said people have figured out that the fine is still less than buying insurance.

“Buying insurance on the exchanges is still expensive, and small businesses may pay the fine instead,” he said.

McGeachey said the hospitals also advocate for increasing eligibility for MaineCare services – a federal and state program that provides health coverage to low-income residents.

“It’s the right thing to do,” he said.

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