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Jackman Seeks State Funds To Keep Health Clinic Operating Around The Clock

Jackman Community Health Center website.
The Jackman Community Health Center in Jackman, Maine.

Residents of Jackman are asking state lawmakers for nearly half a million dollars to maintain 24-hour services at their health clinic.  The Jackman Community Health Center lost round-the-clock staffing last September, and now relies on on-call providers during off-hours. At a public hearing in Augusta Tuesday, supporters  said the one-time appropriation would buy time until the community devises a long-term solution.  But some lawmakers are wary of a one-time deal. 

The population of Jackman is about 800. But Republican state Rep. Chad Grignon, who's sponsoring a bill to help fund the town's health clinic, says thousands of visitors come to the region for snowmobiling, ATV riding, fishing, and hunting. 

"Unfortunately these activities can be dangerous," Grignon says. "Accidents happen on the trails and in the woods, but also on Route 201, which has seen a substantial number of moose strikes and truck accidents."

And the Jackman Community Health Center is the only option for care for miles.  A hospital in Skowhegan is 75 miles away.  Another one in Greenville is 50 miles away. 

Jackman's health center used to be staffed on overnights and weekends by MaineGeneral in Augusta.  But the hospital ended its operations in September, after sustaining losses for a decade.  So, the clinic resorted to an on-call service during evenings and weekends.

"So the key about why we're looking for funding is that we have to have a provider on call, we have to have some sort of nurse on call.  The ambulance needs to be on call," says Sarah Dubay, spokeswoman for Penobscot Community Health Center, which operates the clinic.  

Dubay and other community members are asking the state for a one-time appropriation of $500,000 to help fund those on-call services until the clinic finds a long term solution. 

But Democratic state Rep. Dale Denno, a member of the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee, says lawmakers are usually reluctant to do one-shot deals, "because we have no way of knowing whether other communities might have equal claims to that same need, or whether that should be spread out among others."

Denno and other members of the committee are hoping the governor's office can intervene.  Maine's U.S. senators have also pledged to do what they can.

"We're here to try to help you fill in the gaps in coverage and so we will work very hard on that issue," said Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, on a recent visit to Jackman. Collins told residents that she'll work with independent Sen. Angus King to try to find a solution.

This story was originally published Feb. 7, 2018 at 6:41 a.m. ET.