A row of chairs with name tags, reserved for the Calais Regional Hospital (CRH) board of directors, sat empty during the standing‑room only town hall meeting that was organized by the Maine State Nurses Association on the evening of August 30 to allow community members to ask questions of CRH management and board members. The meeting was organized by the Coalition for Healthy Washington County Families, which was seeking to have an open discussion about the decision to close the obstetrics unit and about the management of the hospital by the for‑profit business, Quorum Health Services. The coalition includes expectant mothers, new mothers and other community members, in addition to union members and hospital employees.
Todd Ricker, labor representative for the Maine State Nurses Association, says, "We had no idea how many people would show up to the meeting. So we were all surprised that we ran out of room and out of chairs before the meeting even started." He adds, "Unfortunately, the chairs reserved for the CRH board of directors were unoccupied during the entire meeting. I think that was very frustrating to those who came with questions about what is happening to their hospital and why."
The CRH board of directors and management staff were invited by letter to the meeting, explained organizers, when asked by a number of people why the chairs were empty. Ricker says, "This sort of disregard for public opinion is not uncommon in Quorum‑run hospitals." He stated that CRH and one other hospital in Maine are the only ones left in the state still managed by Quorum. "DECH used to, but they got rid of them."
When asked why no board of directors or key staff attended the town meeting, CRH Vice President of Community Relations Dee Dee Travis responded with the written statement that said, in part, "The Calais Regional Hospital board of directors stands affirmed in the difficult decision we made earlier this year to discontinue labor and delivery services. ... We recognize this has been an emotional issue for the community, and we respect the passionate voices that have let themselves be heard." She added, "The board is committed to focusing the hospital's resources on the services most needed and utilized by our patients to ensure our ability to operate into the future. We hope everyone in the community joins us in that commitment and chooses to receive their care at Calais Regional Hospital."
Hand‑outs at the meeting listed CRH services lost since 2004 under Quorum's management: the special care unit; many capabilities of the intensive care unit; the ability to admit and treat patients on hemodialysis and dialyse them while they are on inpatient treatment; the ability to admit pediatric patients; the ability to admit patients on BIPBP, a type of ventilator; and finally the August 30 closure of the OB unit, which was originally scheduled to close January 1, 2018. "We don't want people to give up hope," Ricker said. "In time of need people to stick together."
Concerns raised that remained unanswered were about the financial state of both CRH and Quorum. Many of those present felt the two were linked, with Calais City Councillor Marcia Rogers and resident Lisa Dereszewski presenting some figures about CRH's financial status compiled from the company's online IRS 990 forms. In addition, a fact sheet passed out to attendees lists the 990 salary information for 2015, with CRH paying about $900,000 to Quorum for that year, with $342,400 in salary and $29,500 in benefits to the chief executive officer, and about $153,000 in salary and benefits to the chief financial officer. The CEO and CFO are Quorum employees. The almost $400,000 remaining in the annual payment to Quorum was another question mark, with the coalition members noting that the amount appears to be an annual management fee to Quorum.
Next steps outlined
While the 90-minute meeting was mostly about voicing concerns and questions that remained unanswered, Ricker asked those present to discuss next steps. Along with signed poster‑sized letters titled "No Confidence" and "Dear Quorum: Leave our city now," five action steps were identified, with board member accountability of top concern.
Residents and hospital users of the region were asked to talk to friends and neighbors about the empty board member chairs and the refusal of hospital staff to provide bylaws that outline how board members are elected. Ricker's hand‑out states, "Even after several requests from groups like the nurse's union, CRH refuses to release its bylaws." In addition, coalition members will: conduct research about other hospitals and communities to find best practices for hospital management and community relations; reach out to neighboring communities and state representatives about the hospital's status; create more sign‑up letters and posters; and create a timeline for actions with meeting follow‑up dates.
Ricker said, "The sentiments of those who came to this meeting were clear: They want Quorum out of their hospital, and they want a hospital board of directors that operates transparently and with accountability to the people of Calais and northeastern Washington County." He added, "It's a shame they didn't come tonight. It's a lost opportunity."
The CRH board of directors are: Chair Ronald McAlpine, Linda Baniszeski, Joseph Dougherty, MD, COS, Mary Jane Sylvester, Herbert Clark, Linda Gralenski, Marianne Moore, Sharon Weber, Lawrence Clark, Everett Libby, Susan Rowley, Peter Wilkinson, DO, Suzanne Crawford, Dennis Mahar and Todd Smith.