News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, November 8, 2012
Citizen group committed to working with hospital on facility plan

by Anne Berleant

Concerned citizens of Parker Point Road first met at the end of August to discuss the purchase by Blue Hill Memorial Hospital of two Parker Point Road properties and the development of a master facilities plan as discussed at the BHMH board of trustees annual meeting on August 13. Out of this neighborhood meeting came the Citizens for the Preservation of Blue Hill Village.

Since then, the hospital has said it has no plans to tear down the former Leighton Gallery and its neighboring “Sweet House” on Parker Point Road and formed a Neighborhood Advisory Committee of citizens, board members Sally Mills and Charlie Hatfield and hospital staff representative Kelley Columber.

“It was certainly very encouraging to see how effective [the group] was in getting the community rallied around the notion of preserving the village and at least being more involved in what’s happening,” said Bill Webb of the citizens’ group in a recent telephone interview.

“We’re committed to working with the hospital and helping them to integrate those [Parker Point Road] properties and integrate with the community,” he said, adding that the group feels “appropriately represented” on the advisory committee.

Before the advisory committee’s first meeting on October 25, the citizen group held one of their own on October 18.

“The meeting was sort of celebrating that we accomplished the goal of having the [BHMH board] say they were committed to not tearing those buildings down,” said Webb.

“That was a big victory for us,” said Serge Liros, also of the citizens’ group.

After the group’s first meeting, Webb circulated an email among members stating that “another issue at hand is how to prevent the hospital from purchasing more property within the village,” and asking if there was interest in working on a review of town ordinances and zoning.

Webb said that, for now, that wider issue is on a back burner.

Liros, who hosted the citizen group meetings at his gallery on Parker Point Road, said that the zoning issue is “very touchy.”

Currently, Blue Hill has no zoning, outside of the Shoreland Zone. “If it’s re-evaluated and connected to the hospital expansion, people may be more amenable. It has to be worked in a way so that it isn’t an infringement on someone’s rights,” Liros said.

“I think [the hospital’s] going to probably make changes,” he said. “I just think most people want lesser of a footprint than they maybe envisioned,” adding that he would be in favor of accommodating changes proposed by the hospital if they are handled it in a “responsible way.”

The Neighborhood Advisory Committee met on October 25 and November 6. Webb and Liros are on the committee and said they felt the hospital is listening to community concerns.

“I know that the board is listening to this committee,” said Mills, who is chairman of the NAC. While its purpose is only to make recommendations to the board, the NAC carries “potentially considerable weight.”

The hospital board has plans for a second community forum in January.

“What we may have in place by then is the hospital’s strategic plan,” said Mills, which will look at what services the hospital needs. “From that, will come a master facilities plan and a business plan…driven by that strategic direction.”

Changes in medical services come out of health care reform, which is focusing on wellness issues, Mills said.

At the first meeting of the NAC, the hospital “didn’t present any concrete plans,” said Liros, but “little scenarios,” one of which was a large Parker Point Road entrance. He said the hospital board hadn’t thought of suggestions like “intertwining the walking paths” on Water Street with the hospital or enlarging the entrance from that street.

“They had this little plan of an island with no interconnection with the outside world,” said Liros.

A new hospital entrance and building a parking lot up or down “are all open-ended questions,” said Mills. “They can’t be answered in isolation” of a larger facilities plan.

“These questions are exactly what makes up the agenda items on these NAC meetings,” said Columber.

Webb said that now that the hospital is “seriously listening,” the citizen group has no plans to hold a meeting in the near future.

“We didn’t have a big attendance,” said Liros of the October 18 meeting. “I think people didn’t feel the urgency as much. But we have a big core group. We have five members on the advisory board.”

“The NAC was created by the board,” said Mills. Unlike a different hospital committee that focuses on the Peninsula at large, “the focus of the NAC is on Blue Hill.”