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February 14, 2019

Five hospitals to receive technical assistance in program to 'optimize' rural health

Courtesy / Century Foundation
Courtesy / Century Foundation
Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of the Maine Department Health and Human Services, announced this week that Five rural Maine hospitals will receive technical assistance from the federal Office of Rural Health Policy in a new program that's aimed at strengthening their business structures, community engagement efforts, as well as help them build strategic alliances with other Maine hospitals.

Five rural Maine hospitals will receive technical assistance from the federal Office of Rural Health Policy in a new program that's aimed at strengthening their business structures, community engagement efforts, as well as help them build strategic alliances with other Maine hospitals.

That opportunity was awarded to only 25 rural hospitals throughout the nation following a competitive application process, with more than 1,000 applications submitted.

The award provides the technical assistance via a newly established program, known as the Center for Optimizing Rural Health, through Texas A&M's Rural and Community Health Institute, according to a Maine Department Health and Human Services news release.

The center will provide remote and on-site technical assistance to vulnerable hospitals across the country, with the goal of gathering an understanding of current economic challenges and community health needs, and will identify ways in which these hospitals can keep needed care local.

The Maine hospitals receiving the award are:

  • Penobscot Valley Hospital in Lincoln
  • C.A. Dean Hospital in Greenville
  • Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Pittsfield
  • Mayo Regional Hospital in Dover-Foxcroft
  • Calais Regional Hospital in Calais.

"Improving Maine's rural health systems is important to the future of our state," Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of the Maine Department Health and Human Services, said in the release. "These awards are an important step forward as we work to support rural hospitals and health systems, which are critical to ensuring that those who call rural Maine home are able to stay safe and healthy."

The department's Rural Health and Primary Care Program assisted the hospitals through the application process by providing additional data and resources.

According to the Center for Optimizing Rural Health, 87 rural hospitals have closed around the national since 2010; 673 rural hospitals are vulnerable to closure.

Maine's rural health care providers have been struggling to remain viable in the face of challenges like financial issues that include cuts to Medicare and bad debt, plus remote geography and aging populations in need of more medical care. Many have been forced to look at cutbacks or mergers in recent years, including the closure of obstetrics at Blue Hill Memorial Hospital in 2009 and Penobscot Valley Hospital in Lincoln in 2014; cessation of overnight emergency care in Jackman, and the closure of the emergency room at St. Andrews Hospital and Health Care Center in Boothbay Harbor, in 2012, followed by the end of in-patient services.

Last month, Penobscot Valley Hospital filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, citing the economic blow to the area of the area's major employer, Lincoln Paper and Tissue, closing in 2015 and the lack of Medicaid expansion before Gov. Janet Mill's recent reversal of her predecessor's policies blocking the voter-approved expansion. The 25-bed hospital in Lincoln said it would remain open and operating while it works through the process, which was expected to last 12 to 18 months.

Penobscot Valley Hospital received a Tier 1 designation in the federal program, which means it will receive onsite assistance. The other Maine hospitals received a Tier 2 designation, which means they will receive enhanced "virtual" assistance.

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