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Proposed Merger Could End Two Hospitals' Contentious Relationship

Patty Wight
Lois Skillings, left, of Mid Coast Health Services, with Randee Reynolds of Parkview Adventist Medical Center.

BRUNSWICK, Maine - Parkview Adventist Medical Center in Brunswick has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Under a proposed plan, the hospital wants to consolidate with Mid Coast Health Services, which operates a hospital just a few miles down the road. The possible merger of the two hospitals could be a happy ending for what was a rocky relationship just a couple years ago.

Parkview's decision to file for bankruptcy shouldn't come as a shock, says CEO Randee Reynolds. The 56-year-old hospital has been struggling financially for some time, he says, and the combination of a volatile health care industry plus the rise in charity care and patients with bad debt were too much to bear.

"We have not been able to make a margin for many years," Reynolds says. "And when you don't make those margins, you can't reinvest in technology. You can't do the things you need to do for the patient. And I think we just got to a point to say we've gone as far as we can go right now."

But Reynolds wants to be clear: "Parkview's not closing."

Under a proposed bankruptcy plan, the hospital wants to consolidate with Mid Coast Health Services, whose hospital in Brunswick would absorb Parkview's acute in-patient care and emergency department, now scheduled to close this Thursday evening at 8:00. But outpatient services and doctors' offices will remain at the Parkview campus, as will its Adventist mission.

Mid Coast Health CEO Lois Skillings says she plans to retain all of Parkview's employees. "And we will need them. You know, with baby boomers retiring, and nursing shortages, it's really critical that we preserve these jobs in our community."

The two health systems were at odds just a couple years ago when Parkview sought a merger with Central Maine Health Care, based in Lewiston. Central Maine Health offered a willing hand, but Mid Coast offered a competing bid, arguing that a union between the two Brunswick-based health providers would eliminate duplicative services. Central Maine Health subsequently withdrew its application, and now, Randee Reynolds is optimistic that Parkview and Mid Coast might come together.

"There have been duplication of services in this community," Reynolds says. "But when you look at it as a realignment, we have opportunities. We have opportunities to grow on both campuses. We have opportunities to share our strengths with both campuses."

"This is not a surprise, and this is happening all over the country," says Steven Michaud, president of the Maine Hospital Association. He says the current pressures of health care weigh particularly heavy on smaller hospitals. While the proposed Parkview - Mid Coast consolidation will preserve access for patients if executed well, Michaud says it's a wake-up call for rural hospitals, that will likely face similar situations, and the consequences will be more severe for both patients and employees.

One way to prevent that, says Michaud, is for the state and federal governments to adequately fund existing health programs. "So what I mean by that is, we've got the Medicare and Medicaid programs, which, in particular in rural Maine, sometimes represent 70 to 80 percent of the patients that go to the hospital," Michaud says. "And all they do is continue to cut."

Randee Reynolds of Parkview also cited Maine's decision not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act as another factor that contributed to the hospital's financial struggles.

But moving forward, Lois Skillings, of Mid Coast Health Services, says she intends to create a successful health system that focuses on prevention and primary care. If the bankruptcy plan is approved, the new organization will be called Mid Coast Parkview Health.