Reporter responds to charge story was distorted

By Stephen Betts | Mar 18, 2017

I feel compelled to respond to a letter to the editor by Dr. Stephanie Lash, the president of the Pen Bay Medical Center medical staff that was published in the March 9 Courier-Gazette.

Lash claims that my Feb. 21 news article distorted beyond recognition the letter she had sent Jan. 9 to the medical and professional staff at the hospital.

I could not disagree more with that assessment of the news story. The article quoted directly from the letter, which summarized the significant concerns that local doctors have on the proposed "unification" of the boards under MaineHealth.

The unification would place full authority over Pen Bay and many other hospitals in southern and western Maine under a single board of directors. Doctors expressed concern about loss of local control and the potential impacts that could have on the hospital.

Lash criticized my use of her letter without permission which she referred to as a "private email."

Pen Bay and its affiliated health care facilities, such as the Knox Center, are run by private non-profit boards of trustees -- MaineHealth and Coastal Healthcare Alliance.

But the hospital and nursing home are our health care facilities. We pay for them with our tax dollars (Medicare and Medicaid) or through our insurance or directly out of our pockets for those who have no insurance. Significant changes in who will control our health care facilities are of the utmost importance to our communities.

I was denied access late last year to a meeting between physicians and MaineHealth leaders about this proposed unification. That is their legal right. However, there has been little information being voluntarily provided to the public about what is being proposed.

Thus far, I have had to rely on information from emails originating from the medical staff at Waldo County General Hospital, and more recently from Dr. Lash to the staff. Both provide insight into what doctors truly feel about the proposed unification.

The Feb. 21 article was accurate in reflecting the content of those letters.

Lash's letter was sent to scores of individuals. There was no harm in allowing the greater community a view into what is being discussed about their hospital.

I present below the full text of the letter from Lash to the medical staff. Compare that to the Feb. 21 story, which can be found online at http://knox.villagesoup.com/p/pen-bay-doctors-worry-about-merger-plans-impact-on-hospital/1625856#1627743.

Readers can judge for themselves how accurate and representative the story was about the letter.

"To PBMC Medical/Professional Staff:

Thank you to all of the medical/professional staff who attended the special staff meeting re Unification on 1/5/17. I will attempt to summarize the meeting.
There was excellent med staff representation, enough to get a chance to hear from essentially all segment of the medical community. In addition, 2 Coastal Health Alliance Board members, and both Mark Fourre and Chris Damm were present. This was a session to air our reaction to Bill Carron’s presentation. The thoughts/feelings expressed revealed both broad and deep concerns with changes in health care at PBMC and the Mid-coast region generally.
Firstly, what we have before us at this point is really only a general concept with a few of the detail sketched in. That said, it is a serious proposal, and most agree, one with which we need to be engaged. Initial reaction includes the clear recollection that the “local control” would be preserved as we moved to join MH approx 7 years ago. Clearly, this is on the table for change. While there is a recognition that the wider goal of population health does require wider planning, there is a strong sense that there are meaningful differences between health care in the urban/suburban environment of Portland and in the vast bulk of rural Maine. The floated governance model of a single board, of which 50% is Portland based raises real concerns about preserving a rural voice as only #1 small hospital would have to vote with Portland to create a majority on any issue. Moreover, as PBMC is now rolled into CHA, it appears there would be only one board member for BOTH PBMC and Waldo, meaning in essence that PBMC, one of the largest smaller hospitals, would have a ½ vote on the proposed new board. How could this ½ person adequately and fully represent all of the needs/nuances of our hospital is not clear. And the cloud which hangs over all of these conversations is the trust cloud. For clinicians at PBMC, we do not have a good recent history of alignment and confidence in the local administration, nor have we had good support from MH. All of our struggles with the EPIC system have probably been the most disruptive and difficult direct effect on our practice we can remember. And this product, rolled out by MH, is still not working well in the ambulatory setting. It has also been vastly more costly than was originally promised. And finally coming to the cost/financial issues, there is a deep sense of frustration and even anger re the financial position of PBMC. While easy to cast blame elsewhere in any situation, the financial problem for this hospital is something physicians care about, but not something we can fix. We alone cannot fix the payment rules, nor have we had any say in the administration of this hospital. And how exactly will the unification help us to resolve these difficulties? Physicians would like to see much clearer evidence of how this may improve our situation going forward, not solely absorb an old loss and result in cuts or collapse of clinical services going forward.
Well, that is the flavor and a quick summary of the nature of the concerns. We understanding that more details regarding the unification proposal will be forthcoming within the next month. My belief is that the medical staffs at both PBMC and Waldo need and can, continue to work together to make the physician concerns adequately heard. It is critical for success. We have scheduled the next Special Medical Staff meeting for 2/9/17 at 5PM, and a meeting announcement will be sent out shortly. We expect to have further details of the proposal by then. Thanks for not sitting this one out!
Stephanie Lash"

Courier Publications reporter Stephen Betts can be reached at 691-6564 or by email at sbetts@villagesoup.com.
Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.