FARMINGTON — Gov. Paul LePage took a brief tour of Franklin Memorial Hospital on Wednesday afternoon as part of a day in Franklin County.
After a tour of the emergency room and Franklin Health Farmington Family Practice, "the governor wanted to hear the day-to-day challenges we face providing emergency care and health care," especially to MaineCare patients, Rebecca Ryder, hospital president and chief executive officer, said.
It was only by coincidence, she said, that the visit came the day FMH announced it would lay off personnel and take other actions to deal with revenue losses and fewer patients.
LePage's office called Tuesday to say he was going to be in Franklin County and would like to visit, she said. She invited him to the two community meetings announcing the layoffs, but he was visiting Saddleback ski area in Rangeley at lunchtime.
He toured some stores and businesses in downtown Farmington after leaving the hospital.
While visiting the family practice in the medical center next to the hospital, the governor acknowledged the $15.4 million the state owes to Franklin Memorial Hospital. The money is for MaineCare patient coverage since 2009. Of the 38 hospitals in Maine, FMH ranks ninth for the amount of funding owed.
LePage said he hoped hospitals would receive their money by early May. The funds have been there since December, LePage said.
"The hospitals should have been paid — there's no excuse for this (legislative) bill not passing," LePage told the hospital administrators and doctors.
The situation has "made us push to re-engineer health care," Gerald Cayer, executive vice president told the governor. He listed a variety of services provided on the hospital campus, from affordable dental care to behavioral health care. Many of them are provided with the goal of keeping patients out of the emergency room and hospital, he said.
LePage said he read an article Tuesday that gave Maine a D for behavioral health care.
FMH provides local crisis care with staff available 24/7, Cayer said. Within the next few months, initial care will extend to coverage by a social worker, perhaps preventing future emergency room visits, Cayer said.
The governor seems to have "a very good understanding of the challenges in the health care field," Ryder said after LePage's visit. He appeared to want to get the state beyond the debt owed to the hospitals, she added.