January 10

Merger of Maine hospitals saves them $2 million

One efficiency from consolidation is the shifting of births from the Sanford facility to Biddeford to help cover a budget shortfall.

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Southern Maine Health Care, the entity formed by the merger of Goodall Hospital in Sanford and Southern Maine Medical Center in Biddeford, has closed or consolidated several facilities, moves that President and CEO Ed McGeachey said will save the new organization about $2 million a year.

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Southern Maine Health Care now operates Biddeford Medical Center, above, formerly Southern Maine Medical Center, and Sanford Medical Center, below, formerly Goodall Hospital. Southern Maine Health is the largest health care provider in York County.

Southern Maine Health Care photos

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Births care at Goodall Hospital, for example, has been shifted to Biddeford, a change that McGeachey characterized as one of the few that will be visible to patients.

Since agreeing to the merger more than a year ago, Southern Maine Medical Center and Goodall Hospital have combined staffs, merged operations and formed a new board of directors. With the formal completion of the merger on Jan. 1, the names of the facilities were changed, to Biddeford Medical Center and Sanford Medical Center.

Mitchell Stein, policy director of Mainers for Affordable Health Care, said such mergers can be good for both institutions and patients, if done properly.

“There can be efficiencies, and those can be good for consumers, but you need to watch,” he said. Members of the community must be ready to speak up if the combined operation threatens to remove a vital service from one facility, Stein said.

“If they see something bad, they need to say something,” he said.

McGeachey said the change in location for births illustrates the savings that mergers can bring. The birthing staffs at the two hospitals were roughly the same, he said, even though the number of births in Sanford was about a third of the number in Biddeford.

The $2 million savings, he said, represents about half of a $4.3 million budget shortfall for Southern Maine Health Care in the wake of the merger. Southern Maine Medical Center was financially healthy, McGeachey said, but the smaller hospital in Sanford had a budget deficit because of declining patient numbers and rising costs.

McGeachey said the board has given him about a year to cover the rest of the deficit. Among other cuts meant to achieve that was the closure last year of a sleep disorder clinic in Biddeford operated by Southern Maine Medical Center. Goodall Hospital had a similar clinic in Kennebunk, he said, and the decision to combine operations there will save money.

Beyond those consolidations, the new organization has committed to retaining most services at its current locations, McGeachey said, including in-patient care, emergency departments and locally available specialists.

The merged operation will provide an integrated medical record for patients and give patients of the former Southern Maine Medical Center access to Sanford Medical Center’s elder-care facilities.

McGeachey painted the merger as almost inevitable, noting that most hospitals in Maine have merged to gain the financial stability of a larger organization. He said the largest provider of health care in York County is now well-positioned for the foreseeable future, although in a world of rapid changes in health care, the foreseeable future “is a three- to five-year horizon.”

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@pressherald.com

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