Coalition Event Urges Hospital Accountability

By Lura Jackson

 

The closure of the obstetrics unit at Calais Regional Hospital (CRH) is continuing to generate unrest for some community members and nurses who are concerned for the safety of patients and frustrated with the lack of transparency shown by hospital administration. A meeting giving those community members the opportunity to voice their concerns and share in solidarity with one another was held on Wednesday, August 30th at the Wabanaki Cultural Center.

The Susan Collins room was filled to capacity during the event with 35 attendees seated or standing and more spilling out into the hallways. Empty seats marked as “Reserved for...” followed by the names of individual board members faced the audience beneath two large posters hung on the wall. One poster was address to Quorum with the words “Leave Our City Now” written at the top and the other was a letter to the board with “No Confidence” headlining it. Attendees were encouraged by meeting organizers, which included the Maine State Nurses Association (MSNA), to sign both posters. Also present at the meeting were three nurses from the obstetrics unit, Mayor Billy Howard, city councilors Marcia Rogers and Mike Sherrard and multiple statewide media outlets.

The absence of board members at the meeting was repeatedly pointed out. When an audience member asked what response was given to the invitational letters, Megan LaPlant responded, “Not a single person on the Board of Directors responded to me.”

The lack of transparency by the hospital generated a significant amount of displeasure from those present. City Councilor Mike Sherrard voiced his opinion on the matter. “The city council is committed to doing everything it can possibly do to help,” Sherrard said. “If we had known that the hospital was in such dire straits, along with Baileyville, who knows, maybe we could have helped them do something, come up with a solution as communities.”

In some cases during the event, misinformation caused the lack of transparency by the hospital to appear worse than it is. Todd Ricker, state representative for the MSNA, said that the list of names for the Board of Directors was a “best guess” by organizers and referred to it as a “secret”. However, as Mayor Howard pointed out, the hospital released a full-page ad in The Calais Advertiser listing all the board members a month prior to the meeting. Ricker also stated that the hospital provided a statewide newspaper with financial information that had not been disclosed to anyone else the night before the meeting; however, no new information was released that had not been previously published in The Calais Advertiser and elsewhere.

  A significant amount of ire was directed at Quorum, the management company retained by the hospital. Ricker accurately pointed out that the hospital spends “nearly $1 million” for Quorum’s management services, including $400,000 as a management fee and approximately $600,000 for the salaries and benefits of the Chief Executive Officer and the Chief Financial Officer of the hospital. “Quorum is an out of state, for-profit healthcare management corporation with a history of corruption, not listening to its employees, and poor treatment of its patients,” said Ricker. “What they’re doing to you is very similar to what they’re doing to other communities around the country.” Ricker said that, to his knowledge, only one other hospital in the state is run by Quorum; however, per the hospital there are three managed directly by Quorum and several others that receive consulting services.

“I truly believe this is the beginning of the end for Calais hospital,” said Larry Moholland, who grew up in the area. “If you hire a consulting company, and it’s losing money, why would you continue to hire that company?” Moholland pointed out the precipitous drop in stock value for Quorum recently. According to the New York Stock Exchange, Quorum Health Corp’s stock has declined from $16.50 in April of 2016 to $4.36 today. “They can’t even manage their own company, and we’re hiring them to manage our hospital?” Moholland asked.

Others rejected the hospital’s statement that the community is growing older and an obstetrics unit is not practical. “In the past three years, we have seen such an increase in people under forty moving here, with families that have good jobs,” said realtor Jessie Howard. “We have a whole new generation coming in here, and they’re all having babies.”

For many, the major concern remains the safety of both mother and daughter. Speaking as to why former OB nurses are leaving rather than staying, Melanie Howard said that the consensus among trained OB nurses is that the facilities will be inadequate for the risks involved. “They’re not arming us with the equipment we need.” Howard said that fetal monitoring equipment would not be available, a statement the hospital previously affirmed while providing that other methods of monitoring the baby would be used. Emergency department nurses are receiving training to prepare them for their new roles. Howard remarked that if nurses aren’t doing OB work all the time, the skills can become stagnant, causing a potentially dangerous situation.

With the closure of the OB unit now complete, the coalition of nurses and community members has shifted its focus on making the board members accountable to help keep the hospital going. To that effect, Councilor Sherrard reminded those present that, “We have an obligation as citizens in these communities to support [the hospital] as well. We need to urge our friends and families to use the hospital whenever possible so they can remain financially viable.”