Central Maine Healthcare considers layoffs

LEWISTON — Central Maine Healthcare is looking to lay off employees in an effort to fill a $10 million budget gap left by unpaid hospital bills, MaineCare debt and fewer paying patients. 

Central Maine Healthcare is the parent company of Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Rumford Hospital and Bridgton Hospital.

Spokesman Chuck Gill confirmed Wednesday that the hospital group is considering layoffs. He said he could not yet say how many people would lose their jobs, which departments would be affected or when the layoffs would occur. He expected to have that information "soon."

"I don't have any type of formal announcement about what we're doing for next steps," Gill said. "We're looking at all options now."

Although Central Maine Healthcare is looking at the entire hospital system, its primary concern is CMMC, the largest of the hospitals. Officials believe most layoffs and other money-saving efforts will be centered there. 

Gill blamed the hospital system's financial problems, in part, on $56 million the state has owed it for MaineCare since 2007. That debt is rising by more than $1 million each month, Gill said.

The hospital system is also seeing more MaineCare patients, which is a problem because the state doesn't pay the full cost of caring for people with MaineCare, Gill said. MaineCare is the state's health insurance program for low-income and disabled people. Other people are going to the hospital less often, and those who do are more likely not to pay their bills, he said.

CMMC is building a new, multimillion-dollar emergency room and lab to replace its smaller, outdated ones, but that project has not affected the hospital system's budget, Gill said. Construction costs have been paid with bonds.

In July, Central Maine Healthcare announced it had halted hiring, frozen wages and issued a two-month suspension of its earned-time program, through which employees earn vacation days.

"We had hoped in July that things would start turning around, and they haven't," Gill said.

To save money, the hospital system has renegotiated contracts with vendors and has looked at ways to manage patient care more efficiently, Gill said. It has also "drastically curtailed" administrative spending, travel, conferences and other expenses. Gill declined to say Wednesday exactly how much was cut.  

"I think the better thing is to put it all in context and give you a more complete list (at a later date)," he said.

Despite its efforts, the hospital group has been unable to save the money it needs to balance its budget this fiscal year. Although officials don't have a final figure, they expect to be at least $10 million over budget. Gill said it's possible the figure will be closer to $13 million.

"There's multiple projects under way (to save money)," he said. "The problem is, with the $56 million problem hanging over our heads, we don't have the time to wait for some of those projects — which we think will come through with lots of savings — to happen, because you can't turn anything around overnight."

Gill said the hospital system would soon announce how it plans to deal with the shortfall, including possible layoffs.

"Our first priority is to make sure we maintain the highest possible patient care," he said. "This is an evolving story; we don't have a final answer yet. I would say soon. I don't know if it'll be this week, but I would say soon."

St. Mary's Regional Medical Center, Lewiston's other hospital, has also struggled in the weak economy. Although it hasn't seen a drop in patients, it has seen a 53 percent increase in unpaid hospital bills. It is also owed $20 million for MaineCare patients.

Spokeswoman Jennifer Radel said St. Mary's spent the past year restructuring to save money and make patient care more efficient. Although one senior manager lost his position in the restructuring, St. Mary's is not expecting a round of layoffs.

ltice@sunjournal.com

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Comments

 's picture

imminent

"they also must not irresponsibly excite their readership. This, as one might readily imagine, can be a thin and dangerous line to walk. Today, the Sun Journal failed."

Since the losses happened, it seems this is incorrect. The headline was right.
http://www.sunjournal.com/city/story/913289 I guess they really were imminent, weren't they.

"I suspect that, today, CMMC is a low-morale nut house."
CMMC's fault, not the paper's.

"In my humble opinion, after the print headline, "Layoffs Loom," and the lede, "looking to lay off employees," nothing else in this story is going to resonate with the public, no matter how factual. The Sun Journal has gone for the jugular, all but declaring job losses to be imminent, and that's all anyone is going to take away from this article."

Since the layoffs have been announced, are factual and are happening, doesn't this mean the research and writing was ahead of you? Maybe think about that when you decide to write your next book-long response.

"One screamin' lede announcing that people are about to lose their jobs does more to damage the credibility of the Sun Journal than that of Central Maine Healthcare."

Except when it's right?

Nice try, really - but you should at least have an argument, like "the paper announced layoffs and they were incorrect and inciting panic and low morale" rather than "they reported the truth, just earlier than CMMC made the formal announcement."

Just a few thoughts... I don't disagree with a lot of your ideas for follow-ups. You had some great angles for possible topics - but your argument that this column doesn't work is just silly since the layoffs are now formally announced.

Central Maine Medical Center's financial problems

Hopefully, the cuts will start with the exorbitant salaries paid to the fat cats, and not from the staff who keep the place operatingefficiently!

Ed Enos's picture

layoffs

funny how this story disappeared off the city section of the online paper.

 's picture

Golly....

What about that HUGE expansion at CMMC? Where is the money coming from for THAT?!?

 's picture

Great

This is just great....what happens when people who are really sick need to go to the hospital? Perhaps the cuts should start at the top...

More to the story

Newspapers have a responsibility to advertisers to craft headlines and ledes that will move the product off newsstands. That goes without saying. But they also must not irresponsibly excite their readership. This, as one might readily imagine, can be a thin and dangerous line to walk. Today, the Sun Journal failed.

I suspect that, today, CMMC is a low-morale nut house. Personally, I'm not so certain a hospital is the place in which I'd most like to incite a panic over job security.

Unfortunately, whether due to lack of resources, or a deficiency of initiative, the Sun Journal took the easy way out on this important story. Just as the paper recently ignored the deep, underlying issues on Lisbon Street in order to present the happy fluff, it appears to have glossed over the complicated details of the Central Maine Healthcare story in order to trade in shock value.

In my humble opinion, after the print headline, "Layoffs Loom," and the lede, "looking to lay off employees," nothing else in this story is going to resonate with the public, no matter how factual. The Sun Journal has gone for the jugular, all but declaring job losses to be imminent, and that's all anyone is going to take away from this article.

However, in my opinion, the Sun Journal still has an opportunity to salvage this story with a compelling and relevant Sunday package. Expand on today's effort with the following:

1. An article by Steve Mistler in which each of the five gubernatorial candidates address how they'd address the MaineCare debt, as well as their ideas for reform, if needed, of Maine's healthcare system.

2. Rural ambulace services in the area report declining revenues from lower call volumes, presumably because people, even if insured, are not availing themselves of the service, out of financial fear. Is the same true of United? Send Mark LeFlamme on a ride-along to talk to patients and EMTs.

3. Is it true that MaineCare users overuse the hospital while regular people, even if insured, are shying away? What are the real numbers? What does this say about the regional economy as a whole, in terms of recovery or double-dip? Send a reporter to find out.

4. It can be argued that CMMC is the economic engine which drives L/A. How about a Bonnie Washuk piece on how the hospital impacts other businesses in the area?

5. Given the furor today's story is likely to create, send Tice to talk to employees, on or off the record, about their fears, or lack thereof, for their jobs.

6. How will the advent of Obamacare impact the hospital's finances and the delivery of services? Is help on the way, or are things likely to get worse? Put a reporter on that.

7. Solicit columns for the editorial page, addresing opposing views of the MaineCare crisis and/or the management of CMMC. Also give the CMMC CEO a chance to address readers directly. Plus, gotta have a cartoon.

8. Is the MaineCare debt a convenient excuse? Tice did a good job addressing the natural question which arises, how does the new construction impact the financials, but questions linger. Is it possible to determin the degree to which management at CMMC is responsible for the system's budget deficit. I bet the Sun Journal has a reporter on staff good enough to find out.

9. We could probably use a follow-up on the board-member salary issue.

10. There's probably a dozen different additional angles the fine editors at the Sun Journal can think of, just off the top of their heads. Call together the staff and pass out the assignments. Sunday is right around the corner, but I bet you can make it. Give us a complete package that really delves into all of the issues at stake, including all the stakeholders involved in the issue.

I think the Sun Journal is capable of delivering something really important which drives and facilitates the public conversation. However, today's story was not it. One screamin' lede announcing that people are about to lose their jobs does more to damage the credibility of the Sun Journal than that of Central Maine Healthcare.

Duke

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