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May 18, 2018

EMHS ends partnerships with Portland and Bangor, citing their $1B opioid lawsuit

Brewer-based Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems is leaving substance abuse treatment partnerships it has with Portland and Bangor in response to lawsuits the two cities joined against national pharma manufacturers and distributors alleging that they caused the opioid abuse epidemic.

EMHS issued a statement Thursday that it and its member organizations — including Eastern Maine Medical Center, Acadia Hospital and Mercy Hospital — would no longer participate in the Community Health Leadership Board and the Greater Portland Addiction Collaborative.

"We are concerned that some physicians, formerly employed by EMHS member organizations, will be named in the suit as a legal tactic to keep the cases in Maine state courts," EMHS spokesman Chris Facchini said in the statement sent to Mainebiz and other news organizations. "By suing individual physicians, these cities and counties have essentially named EMHS and any member organization that employed these physicians in the opioid lawsuit. The suit alleges that EMHS and its employed physicians caused the opioid abuse epidemic in this area and caused $1 billion in damages, including law enforcement costs, first responder costs, public health costs, and social services costs."

Facchini continued: "The opioid abuse epidemic is a tragedy that demands the coordinated efforts of the best elements of our state and community. EMHS and its member organizations, including Eastern Maine Medical Center, Mercy Hospital, Acadia Hospital and others, have been participating in and, in many cases, leading such community efforts. In 2017, EMHS and its member organizations contributed more than $217 million in community benefit across our state. In addition to providing charity care to the uninsured and underinsured, including many affected by the opioid abuse epidemic, we regularly invest in community benefits such as research, education, community building, and community health improvement."

Facchini said EMHS and its member organizations "regrettably" are compelled by the lawsuit to end their participation in Community Health Leadership Board and the Greater Portland Addiction Collaborative, describing them as "partnerships between health care providers and local government that seek to reduce stigma and increase understanding of substance use prevention, treatment and recovery."

"We likely will be forced to withdraw from other, similar efforts across the state if other cities and counties join the suit," Facchini added.

Facchini said EMHS would "vigorously defend" itself against "baseless allegations" that "EMHS, or formerly EMHS-employed physicians, caused the opioid abuse epidemic." Facchini also characterized the legal expenses EMHS will incur as a result of the lawsuit as "a waste of time and resources that could otherwise be directed to the health and well-being of the people of Maine."

Facchini concluded: "While we recognize that the terrible opioid abuse epidemic will require strong community partnerships, we have no choice but to withdraw from initiatives where participants include cities and counties that are suing us. We wish them well in their lawsuit against pharma manufacturers and distributors but are disheartened by the inclusion of Maine physicians, which puts in peril all the good work we were doing with our valued partners to address the opioid abuse epidemic. We are also disappointed that the cities and counties are jeopardizing the financial well-being of their local hospitals by suing them for $1 billion dollars. Nevertheless, we will continue working on our own initiatives to address this serious public health threat, and we look forward to re-joining broader community efforts as soon as this matter is behind us."

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