News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in Castine Patriot, June 27, 2019 and Island Ad-Vantages, June 27, 2019 and The Weekly Packet, June 27, 2019
Blue Hill hospital stops surgical services
Staffers offered other positions

by Faith DeAmbrose

In the ever-changing field of healthcare, Northern Light Blue Hill Hospital has announced the closure of its surgical services department and will transition those procedures to Ellsworth’s Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital.

The elimination of services in Blue Hill, which includes elective, scheduled, and primarily outpatient procedures, say hospital officials, will allow the Blue Hill facility to focus on primary care, emergency care and on finding ways to bring new services to the community.

Surgical services is broad and includes procedures across a number of practices and departments, such as arthroscopic surgeries, gallbladder removal, colonoscopies, hip and knee replacements, hernias and hand surgeries.

Calling it “the toughest decision I have had to make,” John Ronan, president of the Blue Hill and Maine Coast hospitals, said there would be no staff layoffs due to this decision, offering the 14 affected employees positions at Maine Coast or elsewhere at Northern Light hospitals and clinics.

Ronan informed the staff of the closure June 24 and is providing on-site employee assistance through the hospital’s Employee Assistance Program to help employees with the transition.

“As healthcare changes, it is important to look at the services we deliver and where best to deliver them,” he said. For most patients, this will mean surgery will be performed in Ellsworth, although patients can be referred to whichever facility they choose, said Ronan.

With two new general surgeons joining Maine Coast and the recent departure of Blue Hill’s general surgeon Amy Tan, Ronan said the decision was based on the difficulty of recruiting for that position in Blue Hill and a lack of volume at both hospitals’ operating rooms. Currently, the surgical volume at Maine Coast is over three times the volume at Blue Hill.

As Blue Hill hospital and its associated practices move forward, said Ronan, the focus will be on primary care. “There are still challenges to recruitment and access” in some areas, such as the Stonington clinic, and there are challenges associated with providing services to a growing summer population, but by increasing the focus on primary and emergency care, there will be additional capacity to increase supplemental services.

Dr. Michael Murnik, vice president and senior physician executive for Blue Hill and Maine Coast, said he is looking to increase nonsurgical outpatient services in Blue Hill by creating “an open slot for different kinds of specialists” such as dermatologists, which can rotate into the weekly schedule.