In order for Blue Hill Memorial Hospital to survive, it needs to do a few things, explained BHMH officials at a recent community forum. It first has to “rebuild its image” as a place where quality care is delivered, and it also has to create a 21st century space for care to take place.
Hospital officials, including President and CEO Greg Roraff, Dr. Kathleen Ober, BHMH Trustee Sally Mills and former BHMH Interim CEO and EMHS Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Erik Steele, addressed a standing-room-only crowd at the Blue Hill town hall on Tuesday, September 18, as they discussed what this future might look like.
The hospital gave many details about how it plans to rebuild its image, but few details about its future plans for expansion—which seemed to be what people most wanted to hear.
After members of the public listened to officials speak for close to an hour, many expressed concern that not enough was said about the hospital’s plans for the future.
“You are talking and talking and talking, but not actually saying anything,” said one citizen mid-way through the two hour meeting.
It was clear as discussion progressed that most in attendance were not there to address actual health care delivery, but to talk about the recent acquisition of two Parker Point Road properties: the former Leighton Gallery and its neighboring “Sweet House.” Expressing concern about how hospital expansion might take place and how it might affect the village area of town or the Parker Point Road streetscape, many urged the hospital to look elsewhere to expand.
Parker Point Road resident Anne Piazza suggested South Street and said that many medical models support the use of multiple campus areas.
The cost of new campus, said Roraff, would run about $50 million. He eventually said the hospital has budgeted about “10 to 20 million [dollars] depending on how deep into the [master facility] plan we go.”
In addition to the many comments made about moving the campus, either in part or in totality, others expressed concern about the loss of the older hospital buildings and the possible loss of the two properties recently purchased.
Hospital officials said there were no imminent plans to change the campus. “I want to dispel the notion that construction is happening anytime soon,” said Roraff, adding that the hospital’s strategic planning is not yet complete. He said the hospital jumped at the purchase of two Parker Point properties in order to “give us options” for future expansion. He said BHMH always intended to involve the public in its planning, but the convergence of events trumped those plans.
“We needed to seize the opportunity that presented itself,” he said, adding it was unlikely any construction would happen for at least two to three years.
All decisions made about the master facility plan or expansion will be done locally at a board of trustees level, said Roraff. That message was echoed by trustee Sally Mills who said input from the community was welcomed at any time. A list of current trustees is available at the end of this story.
Why is expansion needed?
Expansion is needed, say hospital officials, to make room for services that will help the hospital grow its market share. Upgrades are needed to the cardiac rehabilitation area, oncology, physical and occupational therapy spaces and to make space for inpatient and pre-op areas.
With a goal of creating private rooms for inpatient services, Dr. Kathleen Ober said there were not enough showers for all the rooms and not enough storage in “almost every department.” There are also “traffic management issues” for the ambulatory entrance and for pedestrian flow.
Community support for building preservation
“There is a huge amount of community interest in what is going on,” said Sara Billings-Leighton, adding “[the community] would like more of a say” in the plans. “It is important to look at all options, be really transparent and keep the community involved,” she continued.
Leighton said that the recent lack of communication is a “cause for great concern,” and that the community is unlikely to support the hospital financially if it does not feel involved with the process.
Blue Hill resident Ellen Best expressed a similar sentiment at another time during the meeting adding, “Blue Hill is a wealthy community,” and more likely to support a plan that includes the rehabilitation of the old hospital buildings. “You can dispense medicine in a 90-year-old building. I give legal services in a 170-year-old building,” she said.
Roraff said that given the “medical codes” that need to be adhered to, he was unsure if repurposing the older buildings would be possible. He said that he is “listening to what the community has to say” and will do his best to preserve the integrity of the village and Parker Point Road areas.
Delivering 21st century care
Many changes have occurred over the last few years aimed at improving patient services and experiences, said Dr. Ober, noting that patient satisfaction has decreased in the last ten years. “This is a challenge we have to overcome,” she said.
According to Ober, the hospital has recently hired a number of new specialists and hospitalists. “As of November 1, when you go to the emergency department, you will be seen by a physician,” she said.
She also highlighted other programs, such as “patient centered medical home” and accountable care programs that are expected to improve patient outcomes and control chronic illness. She said expanded hours are coming to the primary care facility to improve the availability of same day appointments and appointments with your own doctor. “We are asking them to redesign and rethink the way services are provided,” she said, “and you will like what you see, hear and experience in our offices.”
Property versus people
“I don’t understand how the hospital can talk about layoffs and buying property at the same time,” said resident Rick Alexander. “It doesn’t matter if you are talking about voluntary or involuntary layoffs, it still means less people.”
Speaking to the recent purchases on Parker Point Road, Roraff said that the buildings were purchased using capital funds, whereas payroll is met using operational funds. “The money comes from two different buckets,” said Roraff.
Roraff said that between six and seven positions were identified through the recently announced voluntary separation program that expired on September 17. He said involuntary layoffs would be used as a “last resort” and that no plans for such a move currently exist.
Building support for change
No stranger to BHMH, former interim CEO Erik Steele came to the hospital at a time when possible financial collapse was a reality. Steele acknowledged that change was hard then and, in terms of health care, is still about making difficult choices. He spoke about some places where hospitals have left communities and the subsequent impact, and he spoke about recent and massive changes coming for EMHS by way of a 150 million dollar upgrade.
“We are all struggling through change in healthcare,” he said, but a continued partnership between the hospital and the community “is what will be required to sustain you in to the future.” Steele said he expects that there will be “really tough choices ahead,” for healthcare as a whole and urged those in attendance to see those changes in the context of community.
Blue Hill Memorial Hospital board of trustees
Frank Wanning, Blue Hill
Charles Hatfield, East Blue Hill
Richard K. Howe, Stonington
Margaret Hannah, Blue Hill
Andrew K. Laslie, Ellsworth
Sally N. Mills, Blue Hill
Danielle V. Mutty, Castine
Arthur Newkirk, Blue Hill
Gregory Roraff, Blue Hill
Jim Schatz, Blue Hill
David Snow, Surry
Gordon Stewart, Deer Isle
Zoe Robbins Tenney, Sedgwick
Stacey Henner Walden, Surry
Christopher Young, Blue Hill
Chair – Frank Wanning
Vice Chair – Sally Mills, Esq.
Secretary – Andrew Laslie, CPA
Treasurer – Richard K. Howe
President – Gregory Roraff