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April 15. 2013 10:53PM

Memorial Hospital hearing brings out divided opinions

NORTH CONWAY - There were no new revelations in the comments of those who came to the Memorial Hospital trustees' public hearing on its proposed membership agreement with MaineHealth System, though a former board member repeated his charges that the board did not do enough due diligence and did not explore all options.

Former trustee George Epstein made his remarks near the end of the 90 minute forum on April 11 at the Red Jacket Inn. "We refused to talk with Dartmouth, we refused to talk to Concord," he said.

Speaking earlier in the evening, Dr. Ray Rabideau, senior vice president and CMO, anticipated Epstein's remarks, taking issue with "the scary thing" of not going through due diligence. "This is our community hospital, this will remain our community hospital," Rabideau said.

A Critical Access hospital, the nonprofit Memorial Hospital serves the rural populations of the greater Mount Washington Valley in northern Carroll County and western Maine. The not-for-profit MaineHealth is a community care network that offers integrated health care services through its members.

The forum was a prelude to the review of the agreement by the N.H. Attorney General Office's Charitable Trust Unit. If approved, MaineHealth will become the parent organization of Memorial. Memorial Hospital is facing challenges, CEO Scott McKinnon said, as it deals with drops in reimbursements for uncompensated care from the state, and the effects of federal government's sequestration. All this, he said, is coupled with the changes coming from the Affordable Care Act.

Dr. Jonathan Burroughs, former medical staff member at Memorial Hospital in North Conway and now a health care consultant, said that the changes coming in the heath care system are revolutionary, and that half of what the medical community is doing now will be dismantled, as the radically different reimbursement criteria is put in place.

"The whole thing's going to be transformed," he said.

Bill Caron, president of the MaineHealth board, said it's a good fit because both entities are not-for-profits with common goals: to provide access for all; to provide high quality care; and to provide that care in a cost-effective manner.

Timothy Churchill, president of MaineHealth member Western Maine Health in Norway, Maine, said for them, it's been "an enormously positive relationship."

Most of those who commented were inclined to give the trustees the benefit of a doubt.

Two who spoke up were concerned how it would affect their own experience with the hospital and its doctors.

Ray Shakir said he'd had trouble transferring his health insurance when he retired and moved to Mount Washington Valley from New Jersey, and asked how will this affect the plans that the hospital accepts.

One older patient said she's had the same doctor for decades, and that though she still likes him, visits are not satisfying, as each visits seems timed.

Her physician, Dr. David Riss, said he didn't like the system, either, saying he would like to spend more time with patients.

McKinnon said the way it works now is providers are reimbursed for the quantity of services - visits, tests, etc. - not the quality. In the future, reimbursements will be based on healthy outcomes.

Among those present was Anthony Blenkinsop, director of the N.H. Attorney General Office's Charitable Trust Unit. Blenkinsop said he will get a big packet of information to go through, and that at the hearing, "I'm here to eavesdrop."

syoungknox@newstote.com


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