Calais City Council Hold Workshop with Calais Regional Hospital

By Kaileigh Deacon

On Thursday, July 13th at 6pm, the Calais City Council held a workshop with Calais Regional Hospital CEO Rod Boula as well as other members of the hospital staff and the board. The meeting was held at the St. Croix Number One Firehouse with Councilors Mike Sherrard, Anne Nixon, Marcia Rogers, and Eddie Moreside in attendance as well as City Manager Jim Porter and Mayor Billy Howard. The public was encouraged to attend the workshop but the floor was not open to questions other than those of the city council. 

As an introduction, Calais Regional Hospital CEO Rod Boula outlined the current state of the hospital. He explained to the council that the hospital is losing money, in part due to out-migration of services. This means that people are using other hospitals for their needs rather than Calais Regional Hospital. Boula explained that some of these services were not ones that the hospital offered, and so the out-migration could not be avoided, but in other cases they were services the hospital could provide, such as laboratory work. Boula shared that Calais Regional Hospital lost around $60 million to out-migration of services in the fiscal year beginning on October 1st, 2015, and running until September 30th, 2016.

After CEO Boula’s presentation the councilors were given the chance to ask some questions of Boula and the other members from the hospital in attendance. One of the questions asked was about having Quorum as a manager of the hospital and what difference partnering with Eastern Maine Health Systems would have. 

Dr. Joseph Dougherty spoke to this. “If Eastern Maine comes in and establishes a relationship with this hospital, in a few years this hospital will be nothing but primary care and urgent care.” 

“What about – if you knew things were getting rough and that decision was getting made or getting considered – did you think about maybe coming to the council and to the community, talking about ‘We’re in trouble, this is what we’re thinking about, can you help us?’ And as a community, we could come together to figure something out,” Rogers asked. “We can’t help if we don’t know.” 

“I would like to respectfully ask, please let the communities be more involved. Please let the communities decide who will be on the board so that they can be more representative of the communities,” Sherrard said. 

“A lot of these decisions, while painful to make, come down to the hospital being a business,” Dr. Dougherty said. “Now, what everybody should be thinking about is: what is the next service line that’s going to get lost because this hospital doesn’t get utilized? If people don’t bring their healthcare to this hospital, to these clinics, other service lines will have to be modified. I think that’s the takeaway message from today. Use it or lose it.” 

 Boula and Dougherty explained that all of the staff at the hospital will be trained on how to deliver babies so that some cases can be handled here when needed. The issue of recruiting was mentioned, along with being associated with Eastern Maine and the opportunity of sharing doctors.

“We are working with Eastern Maine to get more services here in the community. We are also working with Downeast [Hospital] to do the same. You don’t have to be affiliated to do that,” Boula explained. 

Rogers brought up Quorum, asking for clarification on what they do for us and how we benefit from having them. Doctor Dougherty responded by saying, “They provide management services that we would never be able to get here. If it weren’t for having management – it wouldn’t have to be Quorum, it could be another management company – we would never be able to recruit well-trained, well-experienced CEOs or CFOs and some other top level management without the broad, national reach across a broad pool of applicants.”

Sherrard asked Dennis Mahar of the Board if, when closing the OB was considered, it was the only option on the table or if there were others. Mahar explained that this was the eighth or ninth time that the OB program has been looked at. “It has been a loss leader for thirty years at least. There comes a point where if you’ve got a loss leader and you can’t shift that cost to somewhere else, you’ve got to stop selling the loss leader.”

Sherrard then asked if they were concerned about losing other services because they are no longer offering the OB. “We are working with Eastern Maine and Downeast to offer as many prenatal services in the area so we can capture that.” 

Rogers handed a list of questions to Boula, Mahar, McAlpine, and Dougherty from community members, including pregnant moms, and urged them to answer them and get back to her. 

“I hope the dialogue continues. We’ve got a lot of nurses here and community. I hope that dialogue continues, because that’s what’s going to make the difference,” Rogers said. 

The meeting was adjourned with thanks and hope for further discussions. While the closure of the hospital’s OB-GYN appears inevitable, the council is hopeful more discussions and openness between the city and hospital can prevent further closures from coming.