Calais Regional Focused on Community Relations, Property Maintenance Ordinance Passed

By Christine Phillips

The Calais City Council had a special guest speaker during the recent October 8th meeting. Bert Whitaker, Interim CEO of Calais Regional Hospital, delivered an update filled with optimism regarding recent financial struggles and management changes. Whitaker has been working hard over the last 90 days doing a complete evaluation of performance in care along with financials. A major focus has been on the way patients are processed to get into the various practices.  “If someone calls to be seen, my attitude is to just say yes. We’ll figure out how to get you in here. We are clear that we don’t want anyone leaving the community that should not be leaving the community.” Whitaker said. 

Another focus is on internal workings of the hospital that includes ensuring that the hospital has the supplies and staff needed to best serve patients. Whitaker noted that it is a struggle to recruit people to the area and is currently working to create, among other programs, a Registered Nurse Training Program in partnership with the local high school and college.     

On the financials, Whitaker stated that one of the biggest challenges with critical care hospitals, such as Calais, is reimbursement. While the hospital is in a difficult situation, they currently have the cash flow to meet all expectations, and projections show that continuing over the next 24 months. When several council members expressed their concern in the financial stability, Whitaker replied, “The hospital is not closing.”

Whitaker placed great emphasis on improving community/patient relations. He felt that maybe the hospital hasn’t done as good of job as they could to reach out to people and hopes to bring more transparency and accountability to the public. Whitaker has invited around 30 people over the last several weeks, including City Manager Jim Porter and Mayor Marianne Moore, to come in see what the hospital is doing. Whitaker is working hard to reach out and show people that Calais Regional is a responsible place with good folks who want to do a good job. The hospital is determined to build better relationships with communities to prevent the leakage of patients traveling elsewhere to receive services that can be provided here locally.  Whitaker also touched on some services being added in the near future to include cardiology, pain management, and pulmonology. 

Whitaker closed by saying he feels there is enough business in Washington County to keep the hospital alive but reiterated the need to focus on strengths and weaknesses, talking to the community, and respond to issues and concerns.   

A public hearing was held on the Building and Property Maintenance Ordinance which establishes standards for maintaining the exterior of local properties in a safe, sanitary, non-hazardous manner. The ordinance will cover issues such as overgrown grass and weeds, accumulations of trash and/or junk, and maintenance of fences, walks, and driveways. 

There was a public question on how the process works. Council advised that the Code Enforcement Office will have a checklist that may apply to a certain piece of property. Property owner will be given a time frame in which to correct the issue. After the correction period, the city can assess a $25 per day fine for any infractions that still remain. Another public concern was the amount of time it will take the Code Enforcement Officer to complete the assessments. City Manager Jim Porter indicated that due to limited time available they will start with the most serious offenses first.

Councilor Rogers voiced her concern that an appeals process should be added to the ordinance so that citizens may find resolution of a situation before a matter moves to a court hearing. The council voted in favor to pass the ordinance as presented, amend at a later date to include an appeals process, and change the wording of “property owner” to also include “or mortgagee.” A copy of the ordinance can be obtained in the City Clerk’s Office. 

The council took no action on the Winter Sand Transportation Bid. With the only bid received coming in at $20,000, city workers feel they can do the job themselves. The city did not budget for this cost but it may be looked at again in the future.

 

The city pool was a topic of discussion during the Public Input portion of the meeting. A citizen requested more information on the St. Croix Recreation Association, a non-profit organization that was in place and provided support to the pool. There has been no recent activity in the organization and questions were asked on how to get that back up and running. Current Recreation Director, Craig Morrison, also reported that several contractors have come to look at the pool. The current filter/circulation system is beyond repair. For the pool to open next season, the filtration system will need to be replaced. The lowest quote received thus far was for $70,250. No action was taken at this time.