The Calais City Council unanimously passed a vote of "no confidence" in the board of Calais Regional Hospital (CRH) following the hospital's public announcement that it would be closing its obstetrics wing in January of 2018. The vote was passed at a city council meeting on May 25, during which members of the community also expressed their concerns.
Per the CEO of CRH, Rod Boula, the hospital -- which is a nonprofit -- has been losing $5,000 a day, and the closure of the obstetrics unit is necessary to absorb its cost. Boula said that in the past year there were 60 births at the hospital, compared to the 180 needed to break even on costs. The hospital has stated that no nurses will be losing their jobs and that efforts to continue providing women's healthcare through alternative means will be undertaken.
Members of the community have responded with consternation, with petitions opposing the closure and a protest staged at the hospital on May 23 to proclaim their displeasure with the hospital's continued relationship with management company Quorum Health Resources of Tennessee. Quorum has served CRH since 1992. In 2014 its fee was confirmed at $899,000, $400,000 of which was a management fee. The protest was broken up by police.
"The hospital may be saving money, but the community is absorbing the cost," said a community member at the city council meeting. "It affects all of us as a whole -- young patients, old patients, middle aged patients. I think we all feel hopeless because we're so used to coming from a small community that we counted on the people involved in such things to be honest, ethical and moral."
"As a community we've rallied together in the past, but they're not letting anybody in," said Mayor Billy Howard, referring to the hospital's board. "They wait until it's a disaster before they even say anything." He added, "I've been saying for years we need term limits, and we need to get rid of the board." In the past few years, the hospital has closed its pediatrics wing, the intensive care unit and the special care unit.
Other members of the council and the public expressed their frustration with the closed nature of the board's meetings, which do not allow public participation or provide the public with records of how board members voted. "It's a self‑perpetuating board, which is also bad for the public," said Councillor Mike Sherrard.
Both Mayor Howard and Councillor Marcia Rogers said that they have applied to be on the board for multiple years without success. Howard identified Sharon Weber and Everett Libby as the nominating committee and said, "Two people are controlling the community."
An unidentified nurse stated her concerns related to babies that have been presented with no neonatal care and those that are drug addicted. "We have a high opiate and drug addiction. I've been in a lot of emergency c‑sections for drug babies that weigh two to three pounds. We have to think about those people. Maybe they're not in a good place in their lives, but they're still human beings, and those babies need help."
The council briefly discussed other issues at the meeting, including the school budget, a letter of commitment for broadband and the acceptance of a bid for the Manning Street utility project.
Councillor Mike Sherrard relayed his concerns regarding the school budget, which he said has been increasing too much and "they're budgeting for everything they receive." Sherrard added that the principal's salary was based on doing two jobs and said that if an administrative assistant is added as proposed in the budget, then the principal should take a reduction in pay. Lastly, Sherrard commented on the raises proposed in the budget, referring to them as "irresponsible."
"The day of the 3% raise increase is gone," agreed Councillor Eddie Moreside. "We're lucky if we get 1%."
"We've had a good working relationship, and we don't want to go back on that, but we don't want to be taken advantage of," said Mayor Howard.
The council signed a letter of commitment to broadband to express that as a council they are "fully committed" to bringing fiber optic broadband to the businesses and residents of Calais. The letter acknowledges that the cost of the project for Calais is about $1 million and states that the city is working with Baileyville and Downeast Broadband Utility to finance it. City Manager Jim Porter stated that the city is applying for a grant with Northern Border Regional Commission for $500,000, which would lower the city's cost to $750,000 if received.
The lowest bid received for the Manning Street utility improvements project was from Donovan Construction, which Porter referred to as a "good outfit." Donovan Construction recently completed similar work on the Temperance Street project, meeting all specifications in the process.
Upcoming council meetings are June 29, July 13 and August 24.