BOOTHBAY HARBOR, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - People in the Boothbay region will begin a new era of local health care on Tuesday. For the first time in more than a hundred years, they will not have a full time hospital.
As of Tuesday, St. Andrews Hospital will close its 24-hour a day emergency room, and replace it with a 12-hour per day urgent care center. There will also be no more in-patient beds at St. Andrews, just outpatient rehab and other services.
The change was announced in August, 2012 by Lincoln County Healthcare, which owns St. Andrews and Miles Hospital in Damariscotta. The organization says there simply is not enough demand during the overnight period to maintain the emergency room.
Hospital CEO Jim Donovan told NEWS CENTER the St. Andrews ER typically handles a very small number of true emergency cases, and says it believes better emergency care can be provided at Miles Hospital, where they treat more patients. A local group called the Boothbay Region Health and Wellness Foundation has been fighting the change, but hasn't been able to find any legal mechanism to prevent the closing. Members of the Foundation say losing their full time ER will pose a risk to patients. "I think somebody's going to die in the back of an ambulance," said Margaret Perritt, one of the leaders of the Foundation. Perritt said ambulances will no longer be allowed to take injured people to the Urgent Care facility, meaning long ambulance trips to Miles or Midcoast Hospital in Brunswick. CEO Donovan says the fears of those kinds of problems are "overblown".
The organization is actually merging the two hospitals to become Lincoln Health, with a Miles Campus and a St. Andrews Campus. Miles will continue to be a full hospital, with ER and other services. Lincoln Health is also shifting the St. Andrews "critical access" designation to cover the new organization, including Miles. Critical Access Hospitals receive that designation from the federal Medicare program, which then provides a higher level of reimbursement to assist small rural hospitals with expenses.
However, because Critical Access hospitals are only allowed to have 25 inpatient beds, Miles has been required to eliminate 13 inpatient beds. Critics say that will lead to a shortage in the county. Miles officials sent a memo to employees, saying they don't expect bed space to be a problem.
CEO Donovan said all these changes reflect the increasing pressures being felt by hospitals all over Maine, and that he expects other hospitals will be seeing similar changes.
The Health & Wellness Foundation is planning a gathering outside St. Andrews Tuesday night, after it closes at 8PM. Group leaders say they want a chance to "say goodbye to an old friend". Donovan says the hospital isn't going away.