Advocate group suggests hospital’s transfer of assets

Rob Slattery, a member of the Pondicherry Group's leadership committee, presented the groups findings and recommendations regarding Bridgton Hospital at a recent Rotary Club meeting. (Rivet Photo)

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Rob Slattery has heard the concerns and confusion felt by area residents, who no longer have primary care physicians at Bridgton Hospital.

He understands the frustration regarding what the future holds for those seeking services to manage chronic conditions or even planning to have children.

“Having been on the inside, I was able to determine what some of the root causes were and it has escalated since that time two years ago,” Slattery told Bridgton-Lake Region Rotary Club members at a meeting last Thursday at the Bridgton Community Center. “…We have all had to change how we access health care because of what has been happening at Bridgton Hospital.”

Slattery resigned as vice president of Bridgton Hospital last July. He stayed “very involved” in community needs assessment — a statewide process for healthcare systems, including MaineHealth and Central Maine Healthcare, to look at data and determine community health needs.

He founded Allons!Health, an advisory and healthcare solutions company “focusing on integrating delivery capacity and maximizing access to health care.”

“I met some friends along the way that were very disenfranchised with the direction things were going [at Bridgton Hospital]. We identified that many of the needs were not being met. There was a coming together of groups of people. We call ourselves the Pondicherry Group,” Slattery said.

The Pondicherry Group consists of about 18 members, some who will remain “behind the scenes” due to possible conflicts, while five are acting as the “leadership committee.”

They include:

• Slattery, who is the former vice president of Bridgton Hospital and current president/CEO at Allons!Health. He resides in Sweden.

• David Welbourn, former senior vice president at the Lahey Clinic and former president/CEO at Essex County Community Foundation. He is retired and resides in Andover, Mass., and Bridgton.

• Dani Mooney, director of Lakes Region Substance Awareness Coalition (LRSAC) and a certified Health Education specialist. She has experience working in the VA healthcare system. She resides in North Bridgton.

• Cathy Finck, former director of a Drug-Free Community Coalition and retired Prevention specialist. She is the LRSAC board president, and resides in Bridgton.

• James (Jim) Cossey, Rear Admiral U.S. Navy (Retired), nuclear submarine officer, assistant vice president and senior defense analyst. Jim resides in Bridgton.

Seeing the departure locally of many physicians over the past year to other nearby facilities [Stephens Memorial in Norway and Memorial Hospital in North Conway, N.H.], the group saw the issue of healthcare access reaching a “critical stage.”

“We have hit a wall trying to communicate with Central Maine Healthcare. Actually, there’s been no communication, and it wasn’t for us not trying,” Slattery said. “Our purpose statement is to advocate for the people who live in the Lake Region and those who do business here. We do not want just simple access — a walk-in visit — but more of a primary care, recognizing some people have multiple chronic conditions that need consistent management. We also recognize that business owners are impacted as people go outside of the area for their healthcare needs,” Slattery said.

Over the past six months, the group has studied Central Maine Healthcare and the “decline” of Bridgton Hospital, in terms of services and market share.

“Bridgton Hospital today captures less than 18% of all acute visits in the Lake Region. It means 82% of those in-hospital stays (two to three days) go outside of our region,” Slattery said. “Some are by choice, some are because there are no specialists or services to manage a particular condition. What happens here [at Bridgton Hospital] today, it gets transferred out. You see the helicopter at all times of the day going out.”

Slattery pointed out that 50% of the physicians and professionals have left Bridgton Hospital over the last year. He noted that BH handled 38 births in 2018, a 68% decline from 2017 (BH average 120-plus births in previous years). He also noted that patient visits are on the decline, and BH had a negative operating margin in fiscal year 2018.

“As the financial impact hits, you see the hospital manage its labor by furloughing nurses and staff because there is no work there,” Slattery said. “We hear through confidential sources that there will be another shortfall in 2018. We hear it is on track for a greater loss than last year. When you put this all together, we have a serious issue. We have no communication as to how we are getting out of this.”

He also raised the questions of “trust” — claiming the Central Maine Healthcare leadership “has been unwilling to present a strategy or plan of action that addresses the critical shortage of providers and services” despite “numerous requests.”

“Maine, behind California, is the second hardest place to recruit physicians. That’s a tough metric to overcome,” Slattery said.

In a letter to patients, BH noted, “We understand that this past year has been challenging for our patients as a result of organizational changes and provider departures. Please know we are working aggressively to recruit new providers into the system and are committed to improving access issues as soon as possible. During this transition, we have brought on temporary providers, who are available to see patients until permanent replacements are on board. We regret the inconvenience and uncertainty this has caused our patients and community and appreciate your patience.”

While CMH looks to recruit and reorganize, the Pondicherry Group has investigated the current issues plaguing the Lake Region area in regard to healthcare access and considered possible solutions.

One solution — the purchase of Bridgton Hospital assets from Central Maine Healthcare by another entity, possibly MaineHealth. The group sees the addition of BH under the MaineHealth umbrella would be a natural fit, creating a “clinically-integrated delivery system strategy” (joining Memorial and Stephens Hospitals) in western Maine. The concept — MaineHealth as the “hub” with Conway, Bridgton and Norway being the “spokes.”

“As we looked at the data, the Route 302 corridor is a natural gateway for consumers and healthcare services. As we looked at this, it gave us a solution,” Slattery said.

The group outreached to other systems, including Northern Light (Mercy Hospital) and MaineHealth.

“Whereas we couldn’t get traction with the CEO at Central Maine Healthcare, we did get traction with CEOs of Northern Light and MaineHealth,” Slattery noted.

Discussions with MaineHealth have occurred over several months and there is interest on MaineHealth’s part to acquire Bridgton Hospital, Slattery said.

The group is gauging community interest in such a move by speaking to organizations and selectmen. Residents who wish to weigh in can take part in a survey or contact a Pondicherry Group member as follows:

Survey at:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/P9GJ9VS

E-mail to: pondicherrygroup.me@gmail.com.

The Pondicherry Group is scheduled to meet with Bridgton selectmen this Tuesday, Feb. 12, at 5 p.m.

“There are some hospital board members who are oblivious as to what is happening at Bridgton Hospital. They think everything is fine there,” Slattery added. “It’s not.”

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