November 15, 2012

Waterville hospital to employ more than planned after consolidation

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE — MaineGeneral Medical Center will have more employees in the Waterville area than was originally thought after in-patient services are consolidated at the new Augusta hospital.

MaineGeneral employs about 1,000 people in the Waterville area. MaineGeneral Medical Center President Chuck Hays said at a forum held by the hospital system yesterday that the projected number of area employees will be more than 800 after the transition, an estimate that is about 100 more than originally thought.

“When we first did the analysis, we thought we would go from 1,000 to 700,” Hays said. He said growth at the hospital accounts for the higher figure.

He also said that the reduction will likely be achieved through attrition, with no staff layoffs anticipated.

Hays said patient access to day surgeries, emergency care, and preventive services in the Waterville area will not be diminished once the new hospital is completed. MaineGeneral plans to open the regional hospital now under construction in north Augusta in December 2013.

Hays, who is poised to take over as CEO of MaineGeneral Health Jan. 1, said that the change will result in better patient care and more efficiency.

“We have a lot of services spread out all over the place and we want to bring them closer together,” he said.

Waterville’s Seton campus and MaineGeneral’s Augusta hospital on East Chestnut Street will be closed, while MaineGeneral’s Thayer campus in Waterville will be redesigned into an outpatient center. What will become the Thayer Comprehensive Outpatient Center will remain open during renovations, which will begin in January 2014.

The change comes against the backdrop of a national trend toward fewer overnight stays in the hospital. Hays noted that when he joined the hospital 17 years ago, 60 percent of patients received in-patient care. Now about 40 percent stay at the hospital, while 60 percent receive outpatient care. All MaineGeneral’s in-patient services will be in Augusta when the new hospital there opens.

No one met the low bid for the Seton or Augusta campuses during an auction last month, but Hays said that talks with potential buyers are ongoing.

Thursday’s forum at the Muskie School on Gold Street was one of two held in Waterville this week. Spokeswoman Joy Leach said that most questions from the public have involved what changes there might be to services when the new hospital opens.

“People think Thayer is going to close,” she said. “It’s not closing. It’s actually going to be busier than it is today.”

Thayer will continue to operate a 24-hour emergency department, day surgery and radiology services, in addition to many clinical and diagnostic services.

The cost of taking patients by ambulance from Thayer to Augusta will be absorbed by MaineGeneral, Hays said.

MaineGeneral will still be the largest employer in Waterville, Hays said.

Hays said that the transition would result in about 100 fewer full-time equivalent positions, none of which are physicians.

The hospital system of about 4,000 employees loses more than 350 every year as workers age out or leave for other reasons, so most or all of the reduction can be achieved through attrition, he said.

“We plan to hire more per diem and temporary employees as we get closer,” Hays said.

The new $322 million hospital will likely be given a permanent name sometime before it opens next year, Leach said.

Leach said that more public forums will be held throughout the region early next year.
 

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